A Simple Plan for Change

We have a tendency to make simple things complicated. Complcation has its attractions, it’s mysterious, it requires experts to interpret, it makes working in an area exclusive. Planning and creating change have certainly seen a significant amount of complication. It doesn’t need to be that way.

Here’s a take on planning to create change that is relatively simple (only 4 elements), easy to follow (only common social skills required), and effective. What follows is the whole program with a bit of explanation for each of the 4 elements. Try this at home.


You’re going to invest a lot of your valuable time and energy into this plan so aim high. Get that goal out there into an area where the possible is only faintly present. A plan is not an expression of reality so there is no need to be ‘realistic’. By making it big you allow for the achievement of significant change without needing to achieve everything. In other words, your plan can be highly successful even if the execution of the plan is not perfect. This is very useful for those of us who don’t always get it right.


This is the part of a plan where things can start to get off track. How you carry out the big idea has everything to do with how much successful change you can generate. By acting small you make the plan more achievable. Lot’s of folks have been telling us this since time began. ‘The journey of 1,000 km starts with a single step.’ And another step will follow that, and another,and another … until the journey is complete. Taking 1,000,000 steps is a highly complex undertaking, but each step is a simple thing. Work on the simple steps and the complcation dissolves.

The size or the pace of the ‘steps’ on the journey may need to change as we progress. When we try to move faster toward change than we are capable of, we get blocked. When we get blocked we need to reduce the amount of change we are trying to create, and try again. If the block is still there we need to reduce the amount of change even further until we find our new rate of progress.


We are, at our core, social beings. There has been a vast amount of study done that confirms our social nature and goes further to confirm the motivation that those around us provide for our behaviour. We know about peer pressure, we know about social convention, we know about social hierarchy. We know that when we make our aspirations public the likelihood of our attaining our aspirations increases significantly.

The power of those we are close to affect our behaviour is overwhelming. This is why people with addictions need to disassociate themselves from their addict based social group if they want to increase their chance of successfully changing their behaviour.

We put that power to work for us when we make our plan public knowledge. We get even more benefit from it when we can actively engage those around us in supporting us in our efforts to carry out our change plan. We get no help by keeping it a secret.


Many of us become hopelessly blocked by the complexity of what we are doing when the complexity will naturally resolve itself over time. How many times do we say to ourselves, ‘I can’t do this: until that happens, or, without this thing, or, until this time, or, because I don’t have …’. The list of blocks is long. We could be saying to ourselves, ‘What’s one small thing can I do that will move this forward.’

Even a nearly imperceptible bit of progress is progress. Most of the most highly successful planners come across parts of their plan where progress appears impossible. Yet, little be little, they found a way to work around the block until they were back on track and making steady progress.

In my nearly 40 years of doing this type of work I have not worked with anyone who could not follow this process. I have known many who have succeeded using this process and I have known some who have limited their success because they stopped using this process.

Give it a go.

Working from a position of Strength


We have known for millennia that working from a position of strength creates a distinct performance advantage. The Old Testament story of David and Goliath is not so much a story of good triumphing over evil as it is a story of strength being greater than might.

OK, so how does that work, and what am I even talking about? It is all too common and very mistaken to associate strength with brute force. Strength is the ability to harness natural talent through the development of skill. Brute force is power applied to overwhelm. Brute force works but it is not easily adaptable in a changing environment.

This is what the D vs G story is trying to tell us. Poor Goliath comes to the fight with brute force and nothing else, after all, if you can create more force it is easy to beat down an opponent who has not learned how to harness their natural talents. David, half of the size of Goliath, comes to the fight with highly refined natural talents developed through many years of deliberate practice.

So what are these Strengths that David brings with him? Sure, he’s great with a sling, that’s helpful, but that’s not where the Strengths come in. The Strengths that make his success possible are his Self-Assurance, Adaptability, Command, Responsibility and Belief. By using these Strengths he is able to maintain composure, move with the situation, take charge, know that he has the capability and understand that the cause that he is fighting for is based on a set of values that he knows to be true. Each one of these Strengths requires skill development and practice to master. Each one of these Strengths supports his technical capability with the sling, allowing him the presence to use the tool to maximum advantage.

Game, set and match.

Nice take on the story, so what? Well, skipping forward to quasi-modern times and the (more or less) real world, a guy named Don Clifton wondered what it would be like if we were to work on developing strengths rather than trying to eliminate or prop up weaknesses. Don’s interest in strengths came out of his work in the newly developing field of positive psychology. Don’s work was not something that he put together over a few weeks. 30 years into his research the prototype was born. Now, a little over 10 years on, we can work with a finished product.

DonCliftonQuoteWhat Don did was look at the performance of successful people in any field and interview them extensively. This gave Don a mountain of data. He then sifted through the data and came up with a collection of talent areas that he called Strengths. He identified 34 talent areas or Strengths. He sorted these into 4 performance sectors or Domains. He now had an outcome tool. From his interviews he captured the perspectives that identified each of the strengths and from those perspectives he created an assessment tool that he called the StrengthsFinder (now known as CliftonStrengths®).

Identifying talent is one thing. Doing something with it is quite another. Talent represents potential but that is all that it represents. Without intentionally applying that talent to the daily vagaries of life the talent goes mostly unused and remains in an undeveloped state. In order to build that talent out into full blown Strengths, the Strengths based coaching program was created.

Strengths based coaching uses the output of the CliftonStrengths® assessment to help individuals and teams become aware of their most important talent areas. Once that discovery is made the process of applying the talents can be started. As the application process unfolds the achievements are used to fuel and accelerate the application of action. This causes the development of the talent areas creating real Strengths that become the foundation for performance improvement.

Some of the features of talent areas make this development process very enjoyable. When we are working in our talent areas we are more efficient, we are more confident, and we are more productive. It’s easy, we like it and we get things done. When our talents become full-blown strengths we act with more determination and greater purpose. When we act with more determination and greater purpose we perform at a higher level. In effect, we create a cascade to high performance that delivers lasting results.

Strengths based development is based on the following paradigm.

  • There is a strong connection between:

    • who people are and what people do best;

    • what people do best and how people feel;

    • how people feel and how people perform.

Or, to put it into the words of the athletes that I work with, “We love working on what we are good at, it’s fun!”


More to Sex than meets the Eye


If you take a 10,000 foot view of sexual differentiation it appears clear and beyond debate that human sexuality is binary. That is, there are two and only two sexes, female and male. Unfortunately, that 10,000 foot view is inadequate when standing in front of an XX male or an XY female. When we look at an actual human population rather than the flawed model that a binary view of sexuality is based on, we find that sexuality is a spectrum with hyper masculinity on one end, hyper femininity on the other end, and every possible variation in between.

Looking at the Differences

Try as we might to fit every person into one of the two sexuality boxes, it just doesn’t Brain Dimorphismwork. Chromosomal differences are just one of several differentiators for human gender and only one of several determinates of how an individual will orient themselves with respect to gender. In addition to the genetic XX/XY differences in chromosome makeup there are the obvious physiological genital differences; sexual dimorphism in brain structure and function; endocrine structure and function differences; non-genital physiological differences and a host of functional differences that show up over time. Each one of these differentiators has a range of possible configurations and each configuration can present as male, female or any shade in between the two. The number of possible combinations within the differentiators is greater than the current population of the planet. In effect, possibly the rarest of creatures on the planet would be one that presents as purely female or purely male.

With all of that going on it is not hard to see why any system that attempts to sort men to the right, women to the left will be hard pressed to get it right a large part of the time.

What does Sport have to say?

The current state of gender based affairs in the global sport system is a prime example of why a binary gender system doesn’t work. For reasons not clearly defined and even less clearly understood, sport, in general, has insisted upon holding fast to a binary model of human sexuality. This model denies current scientific understanding and is creating an ever-growing series of issues as the global blended gender population has become more assertive in recent years. This is something that the global sport system has been (and continues to be) wholly unprepared to deal with.

Gender DifferencesBy far the most common response of global sport organisations has been to hold even tighter to the unsupportable binary position. In holding on to an unsupportable position sport has had to resort to some rather bizarre ‘solutions’ to attempt to address the issue. Take the IOC for example. Recently, the IOC has required (suggested) blended gender athletes to undergo ‘corrective’ surgery to remove body parts that offend the binary position. The IAAF has required a special policy, and has had that policy suspended by the CAS, that appeared to be slightly more humane. The IAAF policy requires blended gender athletes to contravene IAAF doping policy by chemically altering their bodies for sport performance purposes to bring them into line with binary gender expectations. This is truly a strange and potentially unethical way to resolve a difficult issue, requiring a person to alter their natural constituent makeup in order to support the discredited theory of gender binarity.

As if this intransigence in the face of an overwhelming volume of validated scientific evidence was not enough, the IAAF has actually commissioned a scientific study designed to validate their scientifically invalid position. When will this stop? When will the global sport community be able to accept that the binary position with respect to gender is indefensible?

An Alternative to Mutilation?

The solution is not difficult, we already have a perfectly good example of how to accommodate variations in capability from the Paralympic movement. The Paralympic classification system is complicated but effective at making sure that athlete abilities are properly matched. There is no reason why a similar classification system could not work for gender classing. Once the classing is established it is not a difficult matter to run events by class. Perhaps not all events are available to all classes depending on participant class participation but this would be no different than what already is established practice on the Paralympic side.

Let’s stop blaming the individual for who they naturally are in order to fit them into an outdated concept of the natural order of things. Let’s stop burning witches just because that is what everyone else is doing.

What?, How?, What if? – Questions we should all ask


Using Questions to Enhance Performance

Questions, curious questions, insightful questions, inspiring questions, powerful questions… We all ask questions. Our questions define us and can either illuminate the darkest reaches of our inner lives or close the door to possibility.

Our powerful questions unleash untapped potential, solve intractable problems and quiet the most unsettled mind. Our ego based, biased and judgemental questions block progress, limit potential and narrow our thinking.

When we get right inside the development process it’s our questions that can bring about the most exceptional results.

What are some of the things that you could do to …?

How can we get more of …?

Imagine what other ways …?

Open-ended Questions

These questions open the mind to alternatives, foster a change in perspective, inspire insight and make us more resourceful. We perform best when we are most resourceful. Open-ended questions are the most effective at opening the mind to possibility, which is what makes us resourceful. Open-ended questions tend to lead to solution focused answers.

Open-ended questions can also be strung into a logical format like this: “What are some of the many ways that you could achieve ‘X’?” or “Why is that important to you? And what else?” or “How will you know when you have attained ‘X’?”. A string of open-ended questions and the responses in between are the foundation of a ‘coaching conversation’ that helps to guide the coachee toward discovery of productive solutions to challenging problems.

Questions are the foundation that we build on to create the difference that sets us apart from the rest.

Neurology and Questions

Some of the best questions being asked today are being asked about our brains.

Where does neurophysiology end and consciousness begin?

What is the role of consciousness?

What are some of the many ways that this goldmine of understanding can be used to improve sport performance? Some practical applications of recent discoveries in neural function are showing promising results:


A field of study that combines neuro-physiology with biomechanics with the aim of more completely understanding human movement. Franz Bosch is doing some extensive work in this field with rugby and football players.

Neuro-bio Feedback

Is a process where neural and other biological information is collected electronically and displayed to the user. The user then adjusts normally involuntary behaviours by using the feedback information. Dr. Penny Werthner at the University of Calgary in Alberta is doing extensive work in this area.

Solution Focused Coaching

A process that builds on the findings of neuro-linguistic programming and the work of psychologists such as Milton Erickson to create an environment where questions are used to focus development efforts on making productive changes using the client’s inherent resources. The International Coaching Federation provides leadership in this area.

All of these development modalities are founded on the assumption that consciousness is primarily inhibitory and real change in performance can come from accessing the unconscious.

Putting Questions in the Frame

Once the picture of successful performance is available along with the process to get there, the conscious mind can take this new understanding and work with it. This allows a greater scope for performance by following the route of the imagined performance. For us in the world of performance, the unconscious is where all the good stuff happens. Learn how to easily tap the unconscious through the magic of the open question as noted above and the boundaries of performance will be greatly expanded.

More on Questions

A very large body of knowledge now exists to confirm the performance gains that are generated through a coaching relationship where the coach has mastered the art of the question. I recommend that you give it a look if you’re after something that will make a difference to the performance levels of your athletes.

Why not give it a try? These works might be a good place to start:

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the way You Lead Forever – Michael Bungay Stanier

Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills – Tony Stoltzfus

Keeping the Brain in Mind: Practical Neuroscience for Coaches – Shawn Carson and Melissa Tiers

The Art of Asking Essential Questions – Richard Paul and Linda Elder


Managing the Power of the Other


The Temple of Apollo in Delphi

The entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi contains the above inscription, ‘gnothi seauton’. This translates in English to ‘know thyself’, and is taken to be one of the fundamental areas of knowledge for anyone wishing to excel in life pursuits. It is also one of those things that are far easier to state than to accomplish.

The difficulty in knowing thyself comes partly in the wide variety of areas of knowing that are necessary. There are a myriad of those areas and each of those areas can be viewed from a number of perspectives. The main issue with knowing in this context is the sheer volume of things to know. However, an active sense of curiosity, a quantity of discipline and a quantity of time cover most of what is needed to overcome this challenge.

Where a real problem lies for all of us is in knowing the impact of the concept of ‘Us’ and ‘Other’ on our behaviour. In this piece, we will look at the impact that the Other has on the self. This does not imply that Us is somehow less impactful, just that the two are each complex enough in their own right to be dealt with separately.

Enter the Other

According to recent research done by Robert Sapolsky and outlined in his book, ‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst’, our concept of the Other moulds and governs a significant portion of our perspectives and judgements which, in turn, modify and control our behaviour.

So, what is this Other that we need to know? It’s probably easiest to start this discussion with what the Other is not. The Other is not external. That is, the Other is an internal concept that is separate from external reality.

The Other is a tool that we use to sort friend from foe, safe from danger, good from bad, comfort from discomfort, happy from sad, and so on. The Other is a hard-coded neural feature that has evolutionary roots in the primordial ooze. The Other is about protection and survival. The Other is a barrier to performance.

To give you an idea of how the Other works, 50 milliseconds is all that is needed to make a judgement of Us or Other. Obviously, this is not enough time for this judgement to register as conscious thought. However, the judgement still registers in the brain in the Limbic System and related parts of the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The Limbic system makes its assessment and gets to work notifying the appropriate associative areas of the PFC where a judgement is made. The judgement is then matched to a closest approximation of past experience. A secondary, unconscious decision is made, based on that experience, and a reactive behaviour is generated. Bingo, bango, bongo, you are now behaving in response to a non-conscious perception with no idea that the behaviour is even occurring. Functioning just about as quickly as a knee jerk reaction, this brain jerk reaction is a continuous process. This is what makes it so powerful. This is what makes it so difficult to know.

What is the Purpose of the Other?

From an evolutionary standpoint, it was essential to develop a mechanism to determine a danger and equally important to quickly conjure a strategy to manage the danger. The Other is the mechanism for identifying the danger and the non-conscious (fast) behaviour is the strategy. To make this process even more complex, the broader the range of behaviour of the organism, the more wide-ranging the mechanism/strategy needs to be.

Currently, our understanding of human neuro-physiology makes nearly everyone over the age of 12 familiar with the concept of fight or flight (and the additional F’s that get added). This is just one of hundreds of mechanism/behaviour combinations that are continuously active. Each combination is specifically designed to protect from or prevent injury or insult. How these mechanism/behaviour combinations developed is of critical importance to performance managers.

Why is this a Problem for Performance?

Our existence a mere 10,000 years ago was far more precarious than it is now.  A range of 104 years is an instant in evolutionary terms. Our mechanism/behaviour combinations were ‘designed’ via evolutionary processes to manage an environment that was significantly different from the environment that we experience today. In addition, the cost of false positive reactions was far lower than it is today. The keenly honed sense of Other that was so essential to our ability to flourish in the past is now responsible for our propensity to over react to encounters that we identify as Other. We rain havoc down on our proximal environment without even being aware of what we are doing. And this can make performance suffer. These reactions are commonly referred to as the ‘Stress Response’. A detailed examination of this phenomenon can be found in Sapolsky’s book, ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers‘.

For example, we evolved as social mammals. As social mammals, it was critical to be able to identify our social group (Us) from the Other. At the time that this evolution was taking place territories only rarely overlapped. Contact with Other groups was relatively infrequent although often highly violent until mutual exchange of value exceeded the risk of contact. In a relatively short period of time, far less than the time that it would take to evolve a refined mechanism for Other, we now find ourselves living scant meters from all manner of ethnically and culturally different groups. The naturally understandable but socially unacceptable prospect of racism is a direct result of an highly developed but outmoded function of Other.

So how does this impact performance? One of the primary performance modifiers is distraction. Distraction, like nearly all of the performance modifiers, can have a positive or a negative impact on performance. A distraction as significant as a loved one dying immediately prior to a performance can provide a distraction strong enough that the performance becomes automatic and can result in a lifetime best performance. A distraction as insignificant as seeing a rival standing close to your life partner can overcome several years of training and undo a performance in a matter of minutes.

Being triggered to unconsciously react to a constant barrage of Other related events pulls energy and focus away from the task at hand. Normally this is not an impairment to performance, we have enough slack to accommodate the distractions. When the performance requires the majority of neurological and physical resources the distraction becomes a significant impairment factor.

Distraction isn’t the only challenge that is driven by the Other. Chronic over stimulation of Otherness can lead to a number of physical manifestations including: hypertension, immune disorders, ulcers, depression, phobic behaviour and pathological rage, just to name a few. None of these conditions are known to enhance performance and most are seen to degrade performance.

Crap, what can be done about this?

Awareness is the prime antidote to the condition. Along with becoming aware of when mood, attitude or motivation changes without a discernable change in environment we can alter the way in which we process our Other based perceptions. It is widely known that the same stimulus has markedly different impacts depending on how the stimulus is perceived. An individual who has developed perceptions that interpret Other as an opportunity for growth and development is more likely to gain from the experience than an individual who perceived Other as a threat or burden.

To enhance awareness of Other based perceptions that have a significant negative impact, exercises like perspective taking can have a positive impact. The first step in the perspective taking process is to identify an area where Other based perceptions provide enough distraction to impair performance. Once this is accomplished it is a simple matter to take the perspective of the Other to see the situation through their ‘eyes’. The word eyes is in parentheses because the Other may not be human and may not even be living. The act of taking the perspective of the Other often works to lessen to the negative power of the Other when we realise that the intention that we attributed to the Other may not be what we perceived or may not even be intentional at all.

The power of the Other is significantly enhanced by an extreme focus on difference. Making a conscious effort to seek out similarity can have an impact on lessening a perceived threat and significantly reduce the power and impact of the Other on us. As soon as we have something in common with the Other, the Other loses some of its Otherness.

Another benefit of gaining awareness of strong Other perceptions is that the concept of Priming can be used to minimise the impact of the Other. Priming is an odd feature of our neural processes where some completely unconnected idea can get associated with another idea and impact the resulting behaviour. The classic Priming example takes place in the showroom of most companies that sell high value products. If the marketing folks are tuned in to the effect of Priming, the very first thing that you will see as you enter the showroom are the most expensive products that they have, with the price clearly visible. There is little to no intention to sell you the expensive product, the Prime is in the price. Seeing the high number, you are now primed to perceive the price of the lower priced products as better value than you would have if you had not seen the large price number. How can we use this to our advantage? If we know that we are likely to encounter an Other that will negatively impact our performance we can Prime ourselves by associating the Other with positive experience that enhances performance.

And the circle is complete

We are complex beings, non-linear by nature and prone to behaviours that we are not even aware of. In the area of the Other we can come closer to the goal of ‘know thyself’ by improving our awareness of this formerly undocumented feature. To know that the Other is primarily a construct of the self is to know the self.

The discovery of just how this aspect of our neural makeup works is actively being pursued by some of the most disciplined minds ever generated. Take a bit of your time to keep up with what is being discovered in this area. Your performance will improve as fast as your mind can incorporate these new ideas.