Early thoughts from my journey into the cold – John O’Brien

I was once asked if I could meet someone famous who was no longer with us, who would it be?

This question was put to me in early January this year. At this time, I was coming to grips with my twice-weekly dips in my local lake (the water temperature in Ireland in lakes and rivers at this time of year is about 4 to 5 Degrees C).

My mind was starting to focus as it had never been before. Memories of my past and possibilities of my future were bouncing around freely. I was excited about this new process and exploring further where it would bring me.

So, when I was asked the question. If I could meet anyone who had already passed on, who would it be? This is the answer that came to mind.

I heard once that you should never meet your heroes because invariably how you imagine that person and how they actually are may ultimately lead to disappointment.

I try not to live my life with what if’s, what’s done is done and what’s passed is passed. I do respect lots of people that I do not know for what they have achieved. That said if I could speak to a person who has passed on again,

Interesting and all as it would be, I would not wish to speak to some revolutionary inventor or great leader. My person would be a lot closer to my heart, it would have to be my Granny Nonie.

It’s not that I would have anything profound to say to her, there is no burning question that I want to ask her. I just liked being in her company, sitting on the couch by the fire in Thomas street, chatting about general stuff or just watching some tv.

I would, of course, tell her about my beautiful wife and two amazing little girls. I’d tell her about stories from my life since she passed, all the adventures that I’ve had and all the places I’ve seen and all the amazing people that I met along the way.

I do not know would she understand my perspective or outlook on life, but the more that I think about it, I find that possibly my outlook has come around to the simplistic and content outlook that my Granny actually possessed.

For the last year I have been sitting in cold lakes and taking cold showers. I have been following the Wim Hof methods teachings. This has helped me to quite my mind, relax my body and not fight the cold, rather welcome and embrace it like a long lost friend. For those few minutes that I’m in the lake, my whole body feels like it is under attack from the cold water that surrounds it, but I’m at peace, my mind is empty, and I’m totally present in the moment. The birds, ducks and swans around the lake go about their business. The odd passer-by smiles invariably with a look of confusion as I sit peacefully in the frigid water.

I have begun to like my time in the water to the times when I sat on the couch across from my Granny in Thomas street. More specifically at six o’clock every evening, when she would say her rosary. I imagine at that time each day that Granny Nonie was also at peace. She was also able to empty her mind of thought and Just Be…

I was raised in the Catholic faith, but I rarely take part in any religious events. I’m curious about the many religions of our world and people’s belief systems.

One common theme that appears to be common to most if not all religious orders are the concept of gratitude.

I’m extremely grateful that my time in the cold has brought me closer to hopefully understanding my Granny’s life and what her daily religious rituals had meant to her.

John is a qualified executive and life coach, he passionate about learning about what drives people to behave in the way that they do and working with them to better understand that with the right mindset they can achieve greatness. John is curious about the world around him, and the impact that he has on that world. He has worn many hats over his life so far and intends to wear many more. 

Connect with John via email. 

[email protected] 

Self-Improvement Year Zero – Post by Michael Hanafin

Self-Improvement Year Zero

One person’s journey into the world of self-development through podcasts, reading and most of all doing.

My journey began 12 months ago so this seems an auspicious time to reflect.   I hope something here will resonate if you are starting on this path or already well on the way.

A change of job prompted me to begin. Before then, I allowed my employer’s training catalogue plus opportunities to learn from global colleagues cater to my self-improvement needs. Moving to a much smaller company (where opportunities to both add value and learn from others were more limited than I expected),  I took ownership of my own personal and professional development.  

You don’t need to wait for a life change like a new job or a calendar milestone – you are free to decide that today will be the day I make one small step.

The Process

To start I adopted one habit then built on that a step at a time. That habit and the follow-ons are described later but first I outline the framework I used.

I decided I needed 3 things:

  1. Structure
  2. Schedule
  3. Direction


I narrowed it down to 4 themes or ‘Pillars’ to focus on and planned possible activities and tasks for each:

  • Self
  • Health
  • Other (i.e. Family/Relationships)
  • Work

This allowed me to aim for balance in allocating time to each. By putting them in list format, I had a simple visual indicator of whether I was tending more towards some areas rather than others (which is not a bad thing – not all may need equal attention).  In the cases where something mapped to more than one pillar, I picked the pillar it felt more at home in.

Activities and tasks could be either tangible (exercise, cook something, do something at work or outside, journal keeping), online (research, blogs, podcasts) or reading books.

I found a “trialling” mindset to be valuable at this stage.  If I adopted a new habit I tested it for 4 to 6 weeks after which I would either jettison it, modify it or keep it.

I did try a further categorisation of each item into “Read” “Test” “Review” “Do” (inspired by Deming’s Plan Do Check Act cycle) but quickly felt this was too much, I was overthinking and over-complicating (nothing new there!).


I time-boxed 3 hours every 2nd Sunday and for the first 3 months while planning, researching and shaping what I was going to do and how to do it, I did these sessions in my local coffee shop. As I got into the thick of it and out of the initial planning mode, I retired instead to my spare room but the name I first gave this quality time has stuck for me – even now I often refer to this time as a “Starbucks Session”.


To determine my direction, I first needed to define my values.  As a complement to my values list, I also developed a personal mission statement.  Finally, to guide how I implement my decisions and choices, I figured a set of principles would be useful.

I derived my values by narrowing down from two sets of lists found online.  The 1% Better blog post on this topic was helpful.  I ended up with 5 and in their current incarnation, they are:

  • Making a Difference
  • Mindset
  • Credibility
  • Inner Harmony
  • Vision

My mission statement is currently:

  • Maintain a conscious balance of Family, Health, Work
  • Keep Faith and broader spirituality an intrinsic part of life
  • Add real value and make a difference in my day job
  • As much as possible, operate in a mindful flow state with clarity
  • Be in control of finances, providing for present and future needs

My principles remain in draft format at the time of writing. I will write these to enable me to fulfil my mission statement and adhere to my values.

My notes on what that list might look like are as follows:

  • Practice Meditation
  • Balance self, family, work and health
  • Always ask What matters most?
  • What would <name of inspirational role model> do?
  • Engage with what I do with attention, compassion and non-judgment
  • Practice gratitude
  • Continue spiritual path
  • Don’t force it – take purposeful pauses as required, embrace ambiguity and unknowing, non-attachment to results
  • See the opportunity that is my life in 10 years (think of this from Seth Godin)
  • Respond, not react
  • Act like the person I would like to have reporting to me, be married to, have as a father

You will notice that values, mission statement and principles become more verbose and descriptive.  There should be some natural overlap between them also.

 A word here on goals. We are often encouraged to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound).  I also discovered value in having longer-term goals that are not entirely SMART.  This type of goal may be impossible to completely define at this stage and may demand some blue-sky thinking.  At a minimum, your goals should be ART (trusting the SM to come in time) and remember that for visionary goals you need to be open-minded on what is Achievable.  Don’t be afraid to have a stretch target that you cannot quite see how to reach yet. 

 The Starting Point

I had failed to establish a meditation practice on two previous occasions.  The first was before the advent of apps, the latter following a recommendation on a course I did at work.

Now, I looked again at meditation and saw that it could be the launching pad for everything I was trying to achieve (even though I did not know precisely what this was yet!).  The promise of having the mental space to better consider the impact of what I choose to do, how I think and how I make decisions was very appealing. 

I reasoned that the worst that could happen was that I would gain some valuable “me time” every day.  What I discovered was that, contrary to my expectations, my daily practice began to bear fruit after only a couple of weeks. It was the tip of the tip of the iceberg but rewarding enough to persevere with a guided meditation practice.

The Next Steps

Adopting one positive habit has a domino effect – you will find yourself wanting to add another once you establish that first one.

I saw the seeds of my next habit in the improvement opportunity of my first.  A lot of the self-improvement texts talk about the merits of a morning routine.  I saw that this would ensure I do my meditation at an optimal time plus give me a window to add something else.

Over time I started to rise earlier and earlier, setting the alarm for 6 a.m. and eventually getting it back to 5 a.m. (well, 5.05 to be accurate).  The next addition was diet-related, dusting off the blender to make a healthy early morning smoothie. I stuck with the same recipe daily, finding that doing the same over and over again helped break down any mental resistance – I did not need to think about what to buy or how to make it, just do it.

It’s at this stage that a significant step change occurred. I had a meditation practice and a morning routine.  I had also started journaling – using the Bullet Journal method – allowing me to reflect, to plan future activities and to record any inspirational quotes or writings I noticed.    Exercise was missing.   I found the “Couch to 5k” protocol and started following that 3 times/week.  I found it well-paced and being time-based rather than distance-based meant I could slow down if necessary. Like meditation, running had failed to stick on previous attempts but now became ingrained.


I struggle to say which activity has had the most impact – meditation or exercise.  There are mental health benefits to exercise along with the feeling of reward when running towards a glowing sunset on a Friday evening at the start of a weekend.  I endorse the use of positive language here – exercise is something you get to do (i.e. a reward or benefit), not something you have to do.

Meditation has given me a toolkit to manage life’s opportunities and issues, a toolkit that will grow over time. I see it as a foundational practice for me now.

Throughout all this (meditation, morning routine, exercise, Sunday morning reading/reflection sessions) I found the encouragement and learnings from podcasts invaluable. I built up a stable of regulars to which I return, including of course 1% Better.  Joining a community like the ROTG Slack community with its monthly challenges and supportive membership has also been a great help to maintain a “What else can I do?” mindset.

Progress has not been perfect – meditation has not been daily, I replaced the smoothie with overnight oats (which did not stick, no pun intended) and family life means my bi-weekly time blocking does not always happen.  On the plus side, I now know I have a mindset that is fixed on this course, flexible to adapt to circumstances and recognising of the rewards it can bring. 

When progress is slow, I remind myself of what I have done and  that it is an ongoing way of life with natural ebbs and flows (and not a short-term project). 

Here’s to the next 12 months.

About The Author

Mike Hanafin works as a technology project manager, with grey hair gathered in both the software and life sciences industries.  When not asking checking questions like “What value am I bringing to my role?”, Mike is finding joy in his ongoing self-improvement  mission (whose ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy work-life balance by dissolving the work-life distinction) and inching out of his introvert comfort zone (which has mood lighting and a copious supply of fiction and jazz).   Always wanting to write but never getting to it, Mike is making an early/late New Year’s Resolution to share more of what he has learned (and has yet to learn).

Photos by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash and Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash

If you’re interested in having being a guest post on the blog page or submitting some learnings for a community focused podcast episode, get in touch directly with me – [email protected] or sign up to the growing 1% Better community on Slack – Link to this here


How Do You (To) Do?

How Do You (To) Do?

The humble to-do list – On the merits of keeping it simple

Like them or tolerate them, we all need to consider what task tracking system works best for us – from the classic paper-based “To Do” list right up to using the latest collaborative technology (Trello anyone?) or structured methodologies (Dave Allen’s GTD system is a long-standing servant for many).

As a coder and carefree youth who has evolved into a project manager and a, well, more responsibility-laden adult, I have experimented with multiple variations on the classic to-do list – varying frequency of look ahead & update (daily/weekly) , prioritising tasks (or not), time boxing tasks (or not), paper-based or electronic, online or offline and so on – I have found most variations and levels of complexity served their purpose to some degree at some point in time.

Although not seeking perfection, I have never settled on one that I could say I was truly happy with. Until now.

The following simple system (I hope you agree)  has been working very well for me for some time now.  Do let me know if there is something of value for you here too.

Its’ virtues are ease of use, flexibility and clarity.

Figure 1 – Example To Do List @ Start of Day (Monday)


1 – Paper-Based. One A5 sheet (A4 folded in half does the trick). In my case, this is a loose sheet which I slip into my work notebook but it could be a page in the notebook itself or a dedicated book.

2 – Time Span of 2 days – today and tomorrow (or next working day).  Day goes on the horizontal axis on top. Categories go on the left-hand vertical axis.

In this example, categories are specific work projects (CUST1 and CUST2), Self-development and Admin.  The categories are repeated line by line because I find it a good visual indicator of the number of tasks per category (for me, the specific quantity matters less than a sense of their proportionality).

3 – Comprehensive – You will see there is a mix of the personal and professional, I find that this helps plan my day better by foreseeing all upcoming activities and actions and gives me a feeling (illusion?) of control of the personal on very busy professional days (and vice versa). If I have a 10-minute personal task I am more likely to carve out time to do it on a very busy day at work if it is on the list.

4 – Simple Notation – tasks that get done are crossed out, tasks that are partially done get a dot ⚫ after them and tasks that do not get done today get a > after them, get crossed out and are moved to the next working day (by writing them again in that column).

This notation is based on Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal method and I find the use of the > is a key differentiator from the traditional list.  You won’t feel the same sense of failure you may feel if a task on a classic to-do list is not done  by crossing out and adding a > as this is just rescheduling for tomorrow – it’s still on your radar and still on your plan and hence still in your control – you simply did not get to it today.

5 – Prioritization – Tasks are prioritized when they are a ‘Must’ or a ‘Should’ today. I use a different colour here for clarity and I will often prioritise for the day twice – first thing and again after lunch.

6 – The Tomorrow Column – for me, this is often empty or almost empty until the next day. If I have a task that I strongly suspect I will not get to today I will still put it in today’s column. If I get to it it’s a win, if not I simply re-schedule (see above). Only if I know a task cannot possibly start until tomorrow do I put it in tomorrow’s list today. 

Note that I put all future tasks in the Tomorrow column and just re-schedule each day. If it is really in the future (e.g. next month) I will just put it in my Calendar instead.  While not particularly efficient (compared to e.g. a 3rd column for ‘Future’), the benefit is that it tells me something about the task – if it is too much trouble to write it out every day or if I find myself constantly rescheduling then it may not be worth doing or can be relegated to my calendar for future consideration.

7 – Review – I ensure today’s column is reviewed (or close to) last thing daily with all entries crossed out because they are either (a) complete (b) rescheduled to tomorrow or (c) no longer relevant.

I update the task list in tomorrow’s column either last thing today or first thing tomorrow or both.

Figure 2 To Do List – End of Day (Monday)

That’s all there is to it. With any system it needs to be simple enough to not be daunting to use and it needs to become a habit so I have tried to ensure it lives up to the acronym K.I.S.S.


There are inefficiencies here (like the one mentioned in point 6 above) that I believe are features. Even the very act of using a pen and paper as we enter the 3rd decade of the 21st century has merits – I would add my voice to that of the dedicated journallers who extol the merits of writing versus typing to aid memory and meaning.  Having said that, this method has evolved over time and may by no means done evolving. I refuse to believe it’s as good as can be.

I would love your ideas to refine and improve this along with any other feedback or thoughts you have on the method. 

My most recent refinement was the addition of  personal ‘to dos’ to what had previously been a work-only system.

Thanks for reading and happy crossing-off ! 


Next Time

One person’s story of trying to get 1%+ Better – the growing pains of the first 12 months of conscious self-development, avoiding overwhelm, finding time, listening to podcasts while still getting stuff done.

About The Author

Mike Hanafin works as a technology project manager, with grey hair gathered in both the software and life sciences industries.  When not asking checking questions like “What value am I bringing to my role?”, Mike is finding joy in his ongoing self-improvement  mission (whose ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy work-life balance by dissolving the work-life distinction) and inching out of his introvert comfort zone (which has mood lighting and a copious supply of fiction and jazz).   Always wanting to write but never getting to it, Mike is making an early/late New Year’s Resolution to share more of what he has learned (and has yet to learn).

Featured image – Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

If you’re interested in having being a guest post on the blog page or submitting some learnings for a community focused podcast episode, get in touch directly with me – [email protected] or sign up to the growing 1% Better community on Slack – Link to this here


Productivity Part 2: On Purpose, with Purpose!

A look more at the ‘why’ than the ‘how’ of Productivity.

Do you ever feel like you’re working on the wrong things?

Do you lose motivation half-way through a piece of work?

Do you have a strategy when adding to your To-Do-List or does everything go on it?

Have you ever tried to take a step back and think if there could be a different perspective you could take to get more and better stuff done?

If you ever find yourself asking these questions, this piece might be of interest.

In late 2017, I posted an article (and a podcast) focusing on 11 ways on How to get stuff done. I had been receiving questions from listeners asking how I was managing to keep all the balls in the air and release content on a regular basis. My response, jokingly (and true), was down to me having a lot of free time. I was single and didn’t have any kids. However, I did have a very busy day job, was podcasting regularly, was just finishing up a diploma in Executive Coaching, and was in the habit of signing up to adventure races and the like. From my viewpoint, I didn’t feel like I had productivity mastered (the opposite in fact), but when I stood back and looked at things objectively, my productivity was high. I recall a colleague at the time remark that I seemed to have “mastered time”.

In preparation for this piece, I took a quick glance back at the 11 approaches from 2017to see if they still hold true. Reassuringly, I still use all of them. One is sleep so I’m glad that’s happening and valued. Most of them are absolutely foundational to my productivity. Planning, exercise, creating lists, arising early, setting SMART goals, meditating and using the Pomodoro technique to hold me to account for 25 minutes (or however long I set it) to call out just a few more.

Then & Now!

Flash forward to the present moment. A lot has happened since. Getting engaged, welcoming a baby boy (Jake) into the world, a house extension, keeping the day job going, releasing over 100 new podcast episodes, developing my coaching skills, creating videos and articles (like this one), speaking at events, delivering coaching workshops, and trying to keep myself as physically as active as possible to keep my Type 1 Diabetes under control to mention just a few things that jump out. With all of these in flight, I’m glad to say the management of my time remains in a good place. But I’m not an exceptional case as almost everyone I know are spinning just as many plates as me.  

What has changed for me is the lens through which I look at productivity. My view has gradually shifted, from a time focus and how I could get as much done as possible, made up with practical tools & methods, to a why focus and more on doing the right things.

I’m convinced now more than ever that you can be productive, get Sh1t done, and still have time to be a good dad, husband, friend, and all the other roles you want to have in your life. It just takes some discipline to regularly question and validate what you spend your time on! The more you do this, the quicker you’ll be able to confirm you’re on the right track. Through all of this learning, reflecting, and critical thinking, I’ve become more deliberate about the choices and decisions I make, all leading to time spent better.

I don’t typically quote Nietzsche. However, this one stands out for me. I read it in Victor Frankl’s ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ and it has stuck with me since. It goes “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how” and while this is a bit extreme when it comes to productivity, I believe that it is important to ask yourself if the work you’re focused on is in line with you own why!

That’s what the rest of this article looks at. Some ideas and questions that you can ask yourself about the why before you dive into the how. Let’s begin with a question on productivity itself!


  1. Productivity is a Choice

Think about the word for a minute. What does it really mean? Is it about getting stuff done? Or more about the choices & decisions you make?

To be productive, you are making trade-offs, choices and decisions to do one thing over another with your most valuable resource – time! Highly productive people, teams, or organizations recognise this. They tend not to blindly dive into busy work. Work that is never ending but yet has to be done to convince yourself you’re being productive. Instead, achieving high productivity is about taking a more calculated approach to deciding what to work on and then, using some of the practices and tools, how best to get it done. We all have to-do-lists (TDLs) that never stop growing, and that can be demoralizing, especially as you seem to be ticking things off them all day.

Think about productivity as a choice. Please Choose wisely.


  1. Procrastination without a clear Why!

Procrastination is probably something we can all relate to. It’s a very real thing! Do you find it popping up a lot? As you scan your TDL, do you find yourself putting certain things off again and again in favour of other tasks? You might notice this happening a lot, yet you keep doing it. It’s a whole lot easier to move a task from today to tomorrow than doing it now, right! Maybe it’s time to ask why!

Getting crystal clear on our whyhas become very popular over in recent years. Ever since the explosion into the zeitgeist of Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ book and TED talk, it has become a question I ask myself more and more. Why am I doing what I’m doing? If I do this, will it bring me closer to my goal? Is it in line with my own values or what I believe in? (If you’re not clear on what your core values are, check out this post I shared on how to identify them).

If you can get clear on your why, what your purpose is, your set of core values, and get into the habit of looking at your work through this lens, you’ll find procrastination fades. Why? Because it’s work you believe in and take value from. It might not be easy work and it can take a little practice to build this habit but there is a huge return on investment if you do it. And you’ll see a difference in motivation, which is the next point to cover.

So, take a pause, check purpose, then proceed!


  1. A Motivation check on Language!

Maybe you are good at unlocking the procrastination door. You can get started easily but find yourself stalling and find it super hard to get back into it (whatever it is) again?  The motivation is gone. Being motivated by the work you’re doing is essential to progression. Even more so if what you’re working a big goal which looks to be very far in the distance when you start. Even if it does align with your purpose, keeping motivation high can be difficult. I’ve found that using the right language can help!

Back in 2018, I interviewed Jim Breen for an episode of the podcast. He shared many great and impactful insights from his experience and lessons learned. One that has stuck with me since is around using positive language that can motivate instead of creating a blocker. In our discussion, Jim talked about how important exercise was for his mental health. Like all of us, Jim often found it difficult to motivate himself to go for a jog. By making a change to the language he used, stating he “gets to go for a run” instead of saying he “has to go for a run”, motivation increased and the likelihood of taking that first few steps was much much higher.  Changing just one word made all the difference.

I get to wake up at 5am each morning as I want to spend time before work on personal development. I get to write this blog post. It’s empowering and exciting. It’s a choice, not a chore. Take a look at what you’re doing? Are you having to do it? Or are you in a privileged position to get to do it?

Transform from a chore to a choice and keep your motivation high.


  1. Locus of Control

I get to read a lot! 🙂 

Earlier this year, I read two books from Charles Duhigg back to back. Both have been very influential in my thinking and in putting this piece together. In ‘Smarter Faster Better’, he outlined the concept of locus of control and whether you’re on the internal or externalside. An example here perhaps will help. Have you a friend or a colleague that is always blaming others for things when they go wrong? That it’s never their fault? That would suggest they have an have an external locus of control. That the world is against them. It’s probably a draining experience to be in their company?

On the other hand, what about that other friend that looks for feedback and asks how did they do? What could they have done better?  You can instantly see that their approach is to become a better version of themselves. They display a huge amount of self-determinism to make things better. How do you view this person? They’re probably much more fun to be around and their energy can be infectious in a positive way. That’s what an internal locus of control looks & feels like.

How does this connect with productivity? Taking an internal locus of control allows you to determine your own future. You’re controlling the controllable, not ‘passing the buck’ or giving yourself an ‘out’. Do you find yourself putting off that task because you haven’t heard back from Tom or Mary and until you do, there is no point? Sounds like an excuse to me! What if you take control and brainstorm out some ideas on what the potential feedback could be, so when that when you do, you’re ready to take action? You’re in effect taking control.

Take a minute now & do a self-check. What is your intuition telling you about your own locus of control? What can you take more ownership on? It’s empowering to make decisions instead of waiting for them to be made for you.



Setting a SMART Goal is one of the 11 tips shared in part 1. It’s been around for years, very easy to remember and implement, and the data proves it works. Most of the time. What I’ve learned since is that it has one big flaw. A SMART goal can lack emotion. It doesn’t clearly call out an emotional connection to the goal and if I’m not emotionally invested and connected to the goal, if there is no heart in it, I’m less likely to complete it.

Pick a work or personal goal that keeps stalling or going off-track.  Take a step back. Is it SMART? If yes, then check is it really something you believe in? Is it in line with your vision, values, and motivations? Does it excite you? If not, can you reframe it, so it connects deeper with you? Make it align with your why!

A very personal example I’ve shared a few times over the last 18 months is my own Dry18 adventure where I gave up alcohol for 2018 (check out the free e-book about this here). This was very much a SMART goal (some might say not very smart at all). Using insights that I took from the book ‘Switch’ by the Heath Brothers, I made sure it was not just a black & white goal but one that connects with my motivations. I reworded the goal numerous times until it was something that really energised and motivated me. One that I could connect with. When that happened, I was more bought into it. It became visceral.

Let’s be clear. None of us want to be wasting our time working on goals that don’t serve us. Take the time out at the start or during your execution to ensure you believe in it. It’s a big factor in staying the course.

When I shared the 11 approaches to get more stuff done, it quickly became one of the most read and listened to pieces of content I shared. I know it wasn’t down to the amazing writing style or never seen before ideas. More about the universal need to get more stuff done and gain control over the never ending to-do list. At the time I knew there was more digging required.

Diving a little deeper, questioning the motivations and really challenging the why instead of just running with the how has helped me keep moving forward and increase my level of satisfaction. Now, with life even busier, with time even more precious than before, filtering out the important from the busy, and the high value from the low has been huge for me.


The Best time to start?  

To get started, maybe the best thing is to do nothing at all. Just sit and think about what’s on your list for today. How does it match up against any of the points above? Could you do some ‘Task to Purpose value mapping’and see what tasks jump out as ones you’re excited to work on, are in line with your purpose, and you can control. These could be the ones that will give you the best ROI, fulfilment and set you up for success. Have a listen to that internal voice inside the head. If it’s louder than ever giving you all the reasons not to do it, maybe that’s exactly the sign you need to start.

Taking these few minutes out to assess and resist the temptation to get busy could be the best time you’ll spend all day. You’re starting it off on purpose. With purpose.

Thanks for reading all the way though. It shows you’re serious about making improvements and want to get better. I’d love to hear back from you if you enjoyed this or if you had some feedback or different views. It would be even better if you shared it in your own network.


During the course of brainstorming and formulating this piece, a few other more How-to focused approaches emerged that I’ve been using that didn’t make it into part 1 and didn’t naturally fit into part 2. So, I’ll be releasing a part 3 in the near future. These tips actually sit at the intersection of How and Why so could be worth a look when it’s out. If you sign up to the newsletter, you’ll get notified when that’s out. Link to that below.

Rob is a qualified Executive Coach (ICF) and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, leadership, goal setting, meditation, and other topics, like this one!

Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on the links below:

Email   Twitter  Facebook  Website

Subscribe to the Rob of the Green Newsletter Here



Confidence Uncovered: Truths, Myths, and Flexing the Muscle!

“Fake it till you make it! He’s just naturally confident. She was born with huge self-confidence. I’ll never have the confidence to do that.” – lots of people all the time.

When it comes to confidence, self-confidence and developing both, are you clear on what’s realistic, achievable and what’s not? It’s long been a subject I wanted to explore deeper. Over the years, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of conflicting approaches to develop this very important feeling. Some sounded convincing, others more like click bait.

Through my own journey of self-development, and from my experiences coaching & mentoring others, both confidence, and self-confidence, or lack of, are very frequent talking points. With a lot of misconceptions. My aim with this piece was to (selfishly) get very clear on the subject myself first, and then share the findings with others (not so selfishly). In truth, putting this together was a challenge. And actually, sharing it, in itself, required a degree of both self-confidence and confidence that I maybe didn’t a couple of years ago. I’m hopeful that it’s a piece you find valuable and provides you with some simple steps to develop your own confidence. It does come with a warning, as many of these ‘how to’ pieces tend to. Self-discipline, practice, and commitment are required.

Confidence v Self-Confidence?

Let’s pause for a second. Can you clearly explain the difference between confidenceand self-confidence? What comes to mind?  You probably intuitively know the distinction but when I’ve asked people to describe them, it’s not always easily done. This is important because when trying to develop and grow either, it’s good to know which one needs the attention.

Confidence is defined as ‘the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.’ It’s more of an outward feeling. This comes from knowledge and practice. The more experience you have, the more confident you will become. For example, through writing other articles and developing my own style somewhat, I have a certain level of confidence how this article will be received. Another example came to me when in a Bikram Yoga class at the weekend. Over the last year, I have built up a level of confidence in my practice. I can do some of the positions with confidence. Others, not so much.

Self-confidence is defined as ‘a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.’ It’s inward looking. It’s about trusting yourself and your ability to succeed at new challenges, tasks, and opportunities. The big thing with self-confidence is having a belief in yourself that you can get that job, deliver that presentation, or deal with that difficult situation in work or a relationship. Back when I started to write articles on topics I’m very interested in, I had the self-confidence that I could do this. The same could be said with Bikram Yoga before my first class. I knew I could stick it out, despite not having done it before.

When I’m in coaching mode, over and over again, confidence comes up as a pain point. But many times, what the client thinks is a confidence issue is a self-confidence one. Or vice versa. Time spent getting clear on what it means at the outset is time well spent.

Buyer Beware – Self-confidence quick fixes

We’re living in interesting times. People will try to sell you, literally, anything. A fast-acting guaranteed dose of self-confidence the order of the day on many self-help sites or pop-ups. My advice here is to think before you dive in. Like most things in life, quick fixes fade fast. And during the course of putting this together, I identified a few reported self-confidence boosters that you should be wary of.  This will also serve to help you get over some of the things you’re telling yourself about confidence that’s holding you back! Some of the main myths I’ve found are:



  1. Confidence – you’re just born with it!

How often have you heard someone say “some people were just born full of self-confidence? I know I’ll never have that kind of confidence no matter how much I practice.” This is a myth backed up by research. Confidence is not innate. And if you’re thinking this way, you’re falling into a fixed mindset trap. You’re making excuses. Another way of looking at it is you have a limiting belief. You can grow and develop your confidence.  

  1. Fake it till I make it!

The power pose, made famous by Amy Cuddy, has you standing like a Superhero before you do something that you’re scared of. It’s meant to boost your self-confidence. And in a short burst, for many, it works. A quick hit. Since this became popular in 2012, there has been a lot of science to refute it. It fell into the ‘pseudoscience’ category. While there is a lot of debate still on this (read here), both for and against, I’m putting it into the category of a myth when it comes to building lasting self-confidence.

While it’s very a catchy tagline, faking it for me is being inauthentic. And that’s a core value that I’m not keen on breaking. You might get that momentary hit of dopamine but a couple of minutes into your presentation, the doubts could return. It’s better to build your self-confidence in an authentic way, over time.

  1. Build up confidence first, then take the action

I had always been nervous, even scared, of presenting to large groups. For years growing up, all through my twenties and well into my thirties, I had no confidence in it. No matter how hard I tried to build up my confidence beforehand, by watching videos, breathing deeply, and practicing out-loud, nothing really prepared me for the actual presentation. The actual thing. It’s only through the actual doing, did my confidence start to grow. So, don’t keep waiting until you’re ready. Until everything is perfect. Take the action even when you’re not ready & learn. 

  1. Self-confidence building takes years

While there are no overnight successes, it’s more about frequency than duration. If you’re going to the gym every day for a month, you’ll see great improvements quickly. It’s the repetitions that are incremental overtime that develop muscles. The same with self-confidence. If you do one presentation per month over a year, I’ve learned, the improvement is slow, sometimes not at all. If I managed to do one per week, the compounding interest effect and improvement is much more noticeable.  

The confidence gym!

There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t feel a lack of self-confidence in one area or another. Now though, through developing self-awareness, it’s something I accept as normal and expected. The good news is, like a lot of other competencies related to feelings and emotions, it’s very flexible. You can strengthen it. Just like a muscle. With training, it can grow. This muscle comparison is one that you’ve probably seen a lot of lately. Just like practicing mindfulness, willpower, listening, questioning and others. All need care and feeding. Otherwise, they can regress back to a limper version of its former self. Thankfully though, you’re in control. And no expensive gym membership fee needed too.

So, to the How. Let’s explore a few that I feel are key.  

  1. Build Knowledge

Have you ever had to do a presentation at work where you didn’t really have a high level of interest in the subject matter? Maybe something technical that you just didn’t know well enough but said you’d give it a go anyway? How did that turn out? Did you find yourself out of your depth? Wanting to just ‘get it over with’?

Contrast that to talking about something you’re passionate about? Something you’re invested in and believe in fully? Would you have trouble shutting up? That you’re so comfortable with the topic that the confidence oozes out of you.

If you’re not well read or well invested into the area, it’s going to be next near impossible to be confident about it. So, either do your homework on it and know it well or maybe try to skip it. Back to our myth busting, it’s hard to fake it if you’re not invested.

  1. Deliberate Practice to develop skills – Hard & Soft.

In his book ‘The power of habits’,Charles Duhigg talks about skill as a type of work or activity you can do on any given day and expect the same result or output. So driving is a skill. Typing at a particular speed is a skill. Computer Programming. These would be considered ‘hard skills.’

Then we have ‘soft skills’ like leadership, communications, and influencing for example. As you build up these skills, through action,—– your confidence in them grows.

While the hard skills tend to be more static once learned (like riding a bike), the softer ones are more like our muscle analogy. They need regular work to keep them supple and strong. Deliberate practice required.

  1. The Power of Habits & virtuous confidence cycles

Again, I’m pulling on a reference from the book mentioned above. It’s one of those books that, when you read it, you start to understand more clearly why we do somethings we do. It explains what we already know intuitively. Anyway, in it, as the name suggests, the science behind habits is explained in great detail.

In short, every habit or routine we have is based on a cue or trigger as the starting point that leads to a reward. The routine part, or habit is the ‘what’ we do to get there.

By raising your understanding about how habits work further, it becomes even clearer that the confidence myths are just that. So, if you know by taking action, you’ll fail, make mistakes, learn, and improve, your rewards will come. It’s about doing this over and over. And the confidence will grow. The virtuous circle forms.

  1. Spotting your Limiting Beliefs and choosing Better thoughts!

How often today have you given into a limiting belief? Do you even notice it happening?  Every day now, I catch my inner voice, inner gremlin, or devil, saying you can’t do this, or you’re not good enough to do that, and the story continues.

The truth and realisation were this have always been happening. I had just assumed what was coming up was a fact. I believed the narrative. I accepted it as truth. And, definitely on days where tiredness, being a bit hungover perhaps, or both might have been in play, the story would be worse, and I believed it even more.

As I developed a mindfulness practice over the last few years however, I started to observe this dialogue much more clearly. I began to see it for what it was and is. Just a stream of never-ending information flowing around in my head. We all have it. It’s part of being human.

And by becoming more conscious of these thoughts, I was able to stop buying into them. Then a change started to happen. A positive one. By creating that gap and developing the awareness of what was going on upstairs, it made a difference. That led to a change in belief. The limiting beliefs I had placed on myself were questioned, challenged and, ultimately, changed. Through taking positive steps, and learning along the way, I started to remove the limits I set. I started to widen the boundaries of what I could do. Turning can’t into can.

Confidence is really about choosing better thoughts – saying to yourself, “I am capable” and “if I try this I might fail, but I will learn and succeed from that failure”.

  1. Act, fail, learn, repeat.

This is the last and most essential confidence booster of all. Without action, you’re just dreaming of what might be. You have to take the risk and jump in, lean in, dive in, or whatever ‘in’ you care to choose. I know it sounds simple. It’s not always the case. Perhaps your gremlin outlined in #4 above is now telling you all the reasons why it’s not, limiting your beliefs again? It’s just about taking the first step.

Do you remember what it was like when you drove for the first time? Terrifying? About a day after I bought my first car, and only after a few lessons, I took it upon myself to drive the 2-hour drive from home to where I was working at the time. I remember setting out that evening. It was dark and raining heavily. Time seemed to slow down. I felt glued to the seat and my hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly I was leaving an imprint on it. I was so inexperienced, nervous and edgy all the way. The relief of getting there safely was huge. But I knew that it was essential in my moving forward and gaining self-confidence. The next day, was a bit easier, and then within a few weeks, it started to become automatic. It might be a trivial example, but it’s one I’ve applied to other challenges in my personal and professional life.

Take action. Make mistakes. Learn. And make incremental steps forward. The confidence will grow. The muscle gets stronger. 

Over the years, I’ve identified some tools & approaches to experiment with when moving your confidence levels from left to right. Being wrong on purpose, saying yes to something you normally would say no to, tracking your negative thoughts on in a daily journal are just 3 simple ones. All require you to take action. All will lead to progress (for more, drop me an email). The important piece is here to take the first step. And to start measuring your progress. To make it more tangible.

You might say there is a paradox at play here. To grow your confidence, you have to take risks. Yet, you avoid taking risks, because you don’t feel confident enough? As is the case with many of challenges in life, there can be paradoxes at play. Like anything you want to improve however, having discipline is essential. And knowing that meaningful change takes time and effort. But it’s worth it.

Please do let me know if this was useful? Are there other topics you’d be interested in reading about? Let me know.

Thanks for reading & Good luck with it.

Rob is a qualified Executive Coach (ACC with ICF) and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics, like this one! Rob recently published an eBook on giving up alcohol for 2018 called ‘Dry18’ and can be downloaded for free here.

Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on the links below:

Email   Twitter  Facebook  Website

Subscribe to the Rob of the Green Newsletter Here

Scroll to top