2020 Reading Challenge

At the second half of 2019, I set myself a goal of finishing 26 books. I didn’t quite make it but I really enjoyed the process and the accountability of announcing it publicly, posting on SNS (Facebook and LinkedIn).

Someone suggested that I start using Goodreads and I put it off until this year so I could start clean! So here we are – 40 books in a year. Watch this space for my progress with quite a few to come in the first few weeks as I have several books on the go near completion!

Let me know what is on your reading list in 2020!

2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge

Jennifer has read 1 book toward their goal of 40 books. hide 1 of 40 (2%)view books

The Four Tendencies – Book Review

How do you react when you see this type of sign in your office?


(Image credit Essendon Creative)

You really have to love the use of comic sans, capitals and five exclamation marks. But more importantly, according to Gretchen Rubin’s recently released book The Four Tendencies, your reaction will say a lot about how you respond to expectations. This will go a long way to helping you to understand how to “make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.”

Flash evaluation for the Four Tendencies

Answer this question and chose the answer that is most relevant to you

“How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions?”

  1. Enjoy and keep them  – and not just at New Year – Upholder
  2. Will make and keep  resolutions but believe Jan 1 is an arbitrary date and it is inefficient to wait – Questioner
  3. May have given up on making New Year’s resolution as you have failed so often in the past – Obliger
  4. Don’t want to be bound by resolutions – Rebel

If you want to explore more you can buy the book via my amazon affiliate link or take the online test.

Self-awareness game changer


Discovering the tool was a game changer for me – a classic obliger, I realized that my need for external accountability is huge. I know now that when I want to get something done, I need an external deadline, someone else counting on me to show up or do something.

I realised that this is why I love to join groups and organsie things for others. Spartan race, Lean In, being a member of a running club, running Tokyo Marathon to raise money for NPO resiience. All of these are examples of me getting stuff done by using outer expectations. It’s too easy for me to break promises to myself but not so when other people are involved.

How to apply The Four Tendencies framework

1. There is no hierarchy of tendencies

Other tendencies tend to think that being an upholder is the “best” –  self motivated, gets stuff done, focused etc

But there is a dark side to Upholders, as with all tendencies. Upholders will “uphold” without any thought to the impact on others. Even if it inconveniences a others, the upholder will keep to their plan. We’ve all had that person who simply couldn’t find anything on the menu because of their diet plan and makes it difficult to find a place to eat as they can’t change it even for one meal.

The power of the Four Tendencies model is in knowing your tendency or those of people around you and using that self awareness to create habits in a more effective way.

2. Motivation tool for managers

I have used the tool with management teams who discovered how to support their team members in reaching goals. Giving a vocabulary and a deeper understanding to what motivates your colleague and how to help them create habits is  eye opening.

3. Action plans that work for your tendency

In individual coaching, knowledge of your tendency helps you to realise why you might be struggling to create habit like behaviours. Rather than focus on “Oh, why am I so lazy? Why can’t I stick to anything?” story, you can focus instead on creating action based on the strengths of your natural tendency.

Once you know what your tendency is then you are well placed, not to try to overcome it, but to work within the boundaries and find ways to make that tendency work for you

Wash your cups please!!!!

Oh and I guess you already know but the likely responses for those passive aggressive cup wash signs – often created by Obligers in the midst of what Rubin calls “Obliger rebellion” are:

An Obliger will see this sign and wash their cup

A Questioner will want to know why it needs to be done. Why do the cleaners not wash the cup? Is leaving one cup unwashed going to make a big difference?

A Rebel will resist “no one tells me what to do! I’ll wash my cup if I feel like it”

An Upholder will wash the cup regardless of the sign.  As long as they think it is the right thing to do, the sign makes no difference.

Let me know your feedback on The Four Tendencies. How can this self awareness  be useful for you right now?

Coaching Questions

How can you adjust your communication style to work with people of different tendencies?

How can you implement knowledge of your tendency to me more effective, productive and happy in your life?

Write for impact: global business communication

Whether you are writing an email to your colleague in Germany, a proposal to your client in Australia or an appraisal document to share with APAC HR, your focus needs to be laser sharp. 
My Japanese client asked me to share some resources on writing for impact in global business communication. I thought I would share the love with you too!

Recommended Reading

Andy Maslen’s Copywriting Sourcebook – focus on writing that sells and persuades. Loads of ideas and samples.
Made to Stick – a great book on why some ideas “stick” and how you can communicate to make sure your ideas do too.
Predatory Thinking  – the author was a copywriter and the text is a masterclass in direct tone and short sentences! The content is based on a series of stories of how to outthink the competition. Entertaining and thought provoking.
The Laws of Simplicity – the first law is “Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.” Brevity, action verbs and concise sentences are the way forward!
I’d love to hear your recommendations too. What resources have made you rethink how you write? What are some of your best call to action phrases?
(Email me to find out how you can improve your written communication in a series of one-on-one coaching sessions)

The Happiness Project – Book Review

The Happiness Project (Revised Edition): Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun


As I’ve always been a “glass half full” kind of person and an infuriating optimist, the premise of this book intrigued me. Having had my own epiphany in 2015, “I have all these great things in my life. On paper I’m successful but why am I so unhappy?”, I found a lot of  inspiration and some new “happiness hacks” (as Rubin describes them on her podcast) to try out. Personally, I love coming down to a clean living room in the morning, my gratitude journal daily practice and when I make time to do something creative.

I now strongly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project to my coaching clients who have the same sensation of dissatisfaction, of wanting more from themselves but are feeling a bit guilty that all this navel gazing is  rather selfish and self centred.

Rubin states “happier people are more likely to help other people, they’re more interested in social problems…They’re less preoccupied with their personal problems. They’re friendlier. They make better leaders”.  “Emotional contagion” works both ways and both positive and negative moods are catching.

According to the 4th World Happiness Report published in 2016, my adopted nation of Japan is pretty miserable at 53rd on the list, and my home country of the UK lies at 23rd. There is “growing global interest in using happiness and subjective well-being as primary indicators of the quality of human development.”  So let’s ditch the idea that focusing on happiness is “trivial” and start seeing it as way to measure human progress, shall we?

So now you are on board, where to start?

Coaching Application – Questions about “Happiness”

Rubin recommends the following questions as a great way to begin your search for happiness:

  1. What makes you feel good? What gives you joy,energy, fun?
  2. What makes you feel bad? What brings you anger, guilt, boredom, dread?
  3. What makes you feel right? What values do you want your life to reflect?
  4. How can you build an atmosphere of growth – where you learn, explore, build, teach, help?



Key Takeaways

“It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light”

“Be Gretchen” – aka “Know Thyself” – worry less about what happiness means for others and focus on what makes your heart sing

An absence of bad things does not mean that you are happy.

*Help feed my reading habit by using the Amazon JP affiliates links in the post to buy the book! That would really make me happy!

I should be grateful…


The terrible “shoulds” – an obstacle to gratitude

“I should be grateful I even have a job in this economy.”

Ah, the terrible “shoulds”. Those insidious feelings  – what you are supposed to do, think and feel.  Many coaching clients feel guilty about what they have when there are so many people in worse situations in the world. #firstworldproblems might not be trending as a hashtag these days but for my clients in Tokyo, they are extremly comfortable in the grand scheme of things.

So the guilt begins…”I should be grateful for this job… even though I can’t see my future path, even though I feel burnt out, even though I never see my family.”

One of the ICF Core Competencies says a coach “communicates broader perspectives to clients and inspires commitment to shift their viewpoints and find new possibilities for action. ”

When you find yourself with a case of “the terrible shoulds” try to turn the situation around. Ask yourself:

  • Why do you need to be grateful for it?
  • Could you accept why you are not grateful?
  • What would happen if you were not grateful?
  • What would the worst case scenario be if you were not grateful?

You may find that you can acknowledge that it is ok not to be grateful. This acceptance may move you to change and action. As a friend said to me in the past, ” ‘not so terrible’ does not need to be your goal. You deserve more.”

Finding gratitude when you feel you have nothing

Some days, it’s really hard to feel grateful for anything. You know those days when everything seems to be stacked against you. My coaching mentor advised “You need to work with the client to trust that there is a learning experience in all of this. There is a reason they are facing these challenges.”

When you ask yourself “How am I going to use this situation?”, you open yourself up to experiencing an opportunity for growth.  It becomes a moment of choice. Choice brings back your control. You become action oriented, future focused and you can reclaim a sense of lightness.

It’s important to realise that you can be grateful for what you are, not just what you have. You can be grateful for your feelings, for acknowledging your strengths and your awareness of your weaknesses.

Build a regular gratitude practice

I just ordered my second copy of The Five Minute Journal from Intelligent Change.


It’s a great way to build a daily practice. Bookending your day helps to set you up for a happier mood and send you off for a peaceful night’s sleep.

I highly recommend it – it’s easy to use, beautifully designed and really works to set your mood.

Other people use social media to do gratitude challenges – sharing gratitude with your wider community can help bring joy to others. Gratitude is all about abundance and generosity so this sharing practice can be meaningful…just watch out for the “humble brag”!

Coaching activity

Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and a slow steady exhalation.

Now, think of all the things you are grateful for.

Open your eyes and write down the first three things that come to mind in the comments box below.

How does it feel? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience with increasing your mindset of gratitude.

Presentation Zen in practice


In mid June, my husband received a phone call from the 6th grade teacher at our daughter’s school. “Shinkai san, do you think your wife would be able to make a presentation about england to the 5th and 6th graders on the day before the summer holidays? With the Rio Olympics coming up, the last Olympics being held in London, the next Olympics being in Tokyo, we thought it might be interesting for them to hear from her…”

As a cross-cultural communication and diversity and inclusion consultant, I’m always happy to have an opportunity to raise awareness of other perspectives. I ignored the fact that the request went to my husband and not to me directly (language worries? indirect approach to prevent losing face? sexism? – a post for another time!), and said “Yes”.

Having recently read Presentation Zen, I decided to put some of Garr Reynolds’ ideas into practice. Here’s how applying his concepts influenced the presentation preparation, design and delivery.

Start with the end in mind

Reynolds asks you to focus on message. What is the goal of your presentation? What is the big idea you are selling?

The killer question you need to answer is:

If your audience could remember only three things about your presentation what would you want it to be?

In this case, I wanted them to remember:

  1. To be open minded – there is not one way of doing things in the world.
  2. Igirisu (イギリス)is not just England.
  3. To cheer on team GB.

Know your audience as much as possible

Reynolds ask you to focus on basic “W questions”  when preparing for a presentation

Who is the audience? What is the purpose of the event?

Why were you asked to speak? Where is it? When is it?

Most of these kids have never travelled overseas, some have never spoken to a non-Japanese person apart from an English language teacher. It was important that I was approachable, friendly and interesting.

With the presentation being held on the day before the summer holidays, this audience was probably a little distracted about the prospect of six weeks of freedom! How would I keep the engaged.

Using this audience knowledge, I used the following approach

  • Made all the content about school life, it was easy for them to grasp the concepts.
  • Included the experience of their schoolmate, my daughter, in the presentation to make it feel more tangible.
  • Brought real money for them to hold and made them move about in the quiz. Active experience and brought the kinesthetic learners into the mix too.

Planning in analogue

This was a real game changer for me. I was able to cut out a lot of fluff. Working with post it notes really helped me to distill the content to the most useful parts.

Reynolds points out that when we work in a presentation software we make our story fit the template and it limits our thinking and creativity. Being forced to follow a cookie cutter approach makes us deliver cookie cutter presentations.

Limit bullet points and text

I’ve been subjected to some terrible, text-heavy slide decks recently so I took Reynolds advice on board happily.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.05.26 PM
Applying Presentation Zen design concepts to the slide deck

Almost no text at all, just full-bleed, high-resolution images. This really helped when it came to delivery. We had no projector for the first 15 minutes!

At all times: courteous, gracious, & professional

When your icebreaker requires pencil crayons and paper and you realise that the students are empty handed…it’s time for a visualisation exercise.

When no one knows how to connect the projector for the first ten minutes…it’s time for an engaging run around the audience with your laptop in your hands.

When you realise that there is too much furniture for your interactive quiz to work…keep the quiz but change your approach

As Reynolds says, “The true professional can always remain cool and in control.”

The results: 

I received individual handwritten thank you letters from the students.  From the feedback I can see how well the Presentation Zen approach worked in practice.

Comments about their jealousy of no school on Saturday, surprise over the way that lunch is served and that there are no walking groups showed that the audience realised there were different ways of doing things around the world.

Students repeated the facts we discussed and said  “I did not know anything about the UK before your presentation. Now I know more, I would really like to go there”.

And as for team GB…they just got 60 new supporters! My favourite comment was “I will cheer on team GB in the Olympics. But if Japan and Team GB are competing with each other, sorry, I’m going to have to cheer on Japan”. Love the honesty!

If you haven’t read Presentation Zen yet, head over to Amazon asap

What other resources do you recommend for presentation skills?

Please leave your ideas in the comments below!

Metamorphosis – How and Why We Change – Book Review

St. Hugh’s College Howard Piper Library Image by Louise Cowan

“Each day we wake slightly altered and the person we were yesterday is dead”

– John Updike, On Being a Self Forever

In coaching, I work with clients on transformational change. On ridding yourself of self-beliefs that are no longer serving you and of changing the narrative of your life. But how does change actually happen?

In Metamorphosis: How and Why We Change, Polly Morland uses nineteen stories of personal change to discuss how the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly happens.

Read it if: you want to be inspired about your own metamorphosis, you like storytelling mixed with reference to scientific studies and philosophical tracts.

Don’t read it if: you are looking for a step by step guide to change, checklists and pragmatism.

Metamorphosis: How and Why We Change

Below are a couple of my key takeaways.

Part I Why Do We Want to Change?

Moreland discusses the need for a compelling positive vision of change, coming from within the individual as a key trigger for  “human agency”, a force of action she discusses frequently in the book.

According to one interviewee, resistance to change is really about loss aversion. In organisations we often think that people are resistant to change. Actually they are thinking “Is this change good for me?”. Once people can see it will have a positive impact on them, they will embrace the change. As a witness to many botched roll outs, this highlights for me the need for a crystal clear communication plan, as well as a focus on WIIFM from the employee perspective.

Part II How Much Can We Change?

Morland raises the idea of neuroplasticity, the changes that happen in our brains as our lives change in small or large ways. She contends that this plasticity stays with us all our lives and you can, in fact, teach a new dog old tricks. Which is why a married woman in her fifties can fall in love with another woman or a 33-stone man can lose half his body-weight.

Most interesting about the weight loss story is the impact that the external change had on the man’s inner life:

“Mike made an extraordinary outward change and only then could the door be opened to an inner transformation that is still clearly under way”

Part III How Do We Change?

Morland raises the theory of Post-Traumatic Growth. Sometimes it can only be after huge tragedy that change can occur.

The interviewee H’Sein Hayward, who suffered the death of her brother aged nine and became a paraplegic aged sixteen “…I have this fundamental belief in the power of change in the darkest of circumstances. I think for all people at all times there is hope, which is not to minimise anybody’s personal suffering. I just think that there is always the ability to change your state.

Whilst few of us will go through such dramatic change in our life, the idea of embracing the situation and moving forwards with our new reality is an empowering one. In my coaching, I focus on the power of choice and control: the need to respond mindfully, rather than react.

Part IV Changed?

“Change is only meaningful in terms of identity because in part we also stay the same. The caterpillar and the butterfly are the same single creature.

This idea of continuity in change can be seen in the Ship of Thesus or John Locke’s Socks. Violet K says of her drug addiction and recovery that is still part of her, despite being clean for several years “How is it separate from your life? Because it is not external. Your recovery is in you. The change is inside and goes on.

Raymond Tallis says, “You are never one role. There’s never that luxury. You have a multiplicity of roles, a family of selves. So yes, there is an awful lot of change but also an awful lot of continuity.”

It is challenging to juggle all these different parts of ourselves and to understand what to give priority to. The Wheel of Life can be a useful exercise in coaching to discover balance.

We are all in constant flow like the river of Heraclitus. Sometimes, we may not be happy with the way the river is flowing. Neuroplasticity and agency give us the power to change the direction.  We can never dam the river. It will always find a way to flow!

Morland closes with the importance of metamorphosis as a metaphor of change and the power of imagination in bringing about change.

“It is less taxing on the mind to visit the past that to imagine the future. However, if we want to change or need to change, imagine the future we must.”

Metamorphosis: How and Why We Change available on Amazon JP