Personal metaphor development for progress

Going through my personal folders just now I found the following thought train in a word doc and thought it might be interesting to share:

One of the things I find frustrating about learning new skills and areas of knowledge is that my metaphor for it is a mountain where there is a long and varying uphill path. The revelation I have just had is that my metaphor is a 2D metaphor – there is only 1 path. But that doesn’t sit with my natural inclination to try and find the easiest path. I want to walk around the area of knowledge and see what that mountain looks like from all sides before choosing the path to take.

 

The problem then, is that if the metaphor is 2D, how do I walk around it? Of course the other issue with my approach here is that often, walking around the subject might take less effort but ultimately take longer than simply starting and getting on with the path first presented.

 

Another element I have considered in the past is what happens when I get to the top. I can see other mountains that need to be conquered but which to choose and what do I do with the subject I have just summited? I always try to make sure that what I learn or do serves me in the future and is something that will make the next experience easier.

 

If I convert the 2D metaphor into a 3D one, then the options of which peak to master next multiplies enormously and I can then choose which lessons from the summit freshly peaked to use to help me on the next.

 

Perhaps I can see a mountain in the distance that I want to challenge and can see a series of peaks that need to be conquered in order to get there.

 

One question I ask myself now is whether I take a longer route over many small peaks or, like the Romans, aim arrow-like across whatever obstacles are in the way.

 

Taking a least-distance approach, as my satnav will often point out, is not always the quickest but then how often is it a more enjoyable journey and how often do I learn more interesting and fulfilling things on the way?

 

The other question worth asking myself is whether it is actually necessary to get to the top of every mountain in a given direction. Perhaps it is ok to go over the side of one or get half way up and then go around it. Does that find a compromise in effort and time or does that compromise my desire to find perfection in everything I do?

Perhaps the balance of effort and time is the perfection I’m looking for.

How to sound confident under pressure, think on your feet and deal with questions you don’t know the answer to

I am frequently put on the spot in workshops, meetings and other client facing situations and some feedback my manager gave me the other day was that I could be more confident when I’m asked a question that I don’t know the answer to. As a result, I did some research and came up with the list below.

Consider the question

  • Is it even a valid question?
  • Shut it down, disagree with the implied statement etc.
  • What is the questioner’s motivation?
  • Are they testing you or genuinely interested? If genuinely interested then a “I’ll get back to you” will probably be quite an acceptable answer.

Ask them to repeat the question as a way of stalling for time

Unless it was a very technical or heavily accented question this will almost certainly be seen as stalling for time.

Ask clarifying questions

Get the scope of the question narrowed down and in so doing giving you more time to work out how to answer.

Ask for definitions to jargon

Sometimes TLAs or other company/sector specific jargon will genuinely confuse you. Similarly, clarifying definitions can help buy time and ensure you don’t accidentally answer the “wrong” question or give away an element of your negotiation strategy.

Think out loud

Quite literally talk through what you are thinking as you work out what they want to know, what kind of information they need, and which kinds of evidence/specifics they might want.

Obviously you will then need to organise yourself and provide a clear and confident response, but it shows the questioner that you:

a) listened,
b) you don’t have a ready answer however you can
c) think on your feet and
d) recover to provide a clear and confident response while under pressure.

Acknowledge the person’s own work/expertise

As part of considering the question, consider the expertise and knowledge of the questioner. It may be that they have generated knowledge on the subject and you might garner some bonus points by referencing it. Even if you don’t know the answer but know that they have expertise in it, tell them that you know that they’re the expert and what you know about their expertise. Beware the temptation to avoid the question through flattery however.

Choose 1-3 points and pieces of evidence

When you are asked a question and a million possible answers pop in to your head, take a moment and identify between one and three and respond confidently and succinctly on these. Do not gabble and jump from one to the next to the next to the next. Remember that you need to be calm and respond confidently.

Tell a story

Tell a story that captures the questioner’s underlying reason for asking the question and then takes them through what is/was done.
Sometimes it is clear that the question has been asked to garner some underlying information and you can easily provide the information they seek without actually answering the direct question. Besides: everyone loves a story.

Prepare – What if…

Preparation is the key to most situations where you’re going to be put on the spot. Anticipate the kinds of information they’re likely to want and prepare stories and answers to those. Apart from allowing you to respond to any question confidently, it’ll be obvious that you’ve thought ahead, anticipated their needs and prepared accordingly – all excellent behaviours to be exhibiting.

Practice clear delivery

Falling into the “preparation” bucket, practicing confident delivery will mean that when you are in fact under pressure and being made to think on your feet you don’t also have to try and remember to appear confident while desperately thinking through this list of possible response methods and trying to think of a suitable response… Practice does NOT make perfect: Practice makes PERMANENT.

What to practice?

  • Speaking in a strong, confident voice – a good practice for this is to make up a story on the spot and ensure you’re maintaining the confident voice even though your made up story has silver fairies dancing with the queen while a one legged dog tells jokes to distract the guards…
  • Remember that you want to be able to keep a good level of eye contact. Not a stare but a comfortable some-on-some-off kind of natural contact. It’s ok to look away to remember something and remember to re-connect when you deliver a succinct answer as it will add a confidence to any response.
  • Speed of delivery – Time seems to speed up when we’re under pressure. We take a breath and take a moment to think about the question and possible answers and all of a sudden it feels like there’s been an hour’s silence. Relax – you have more time than you think. A quiet period while you gather your thoughts for a confident and well delivered answer is a million times better than filling the space with er… or simply filling it with the random and unconnected things that “might” be vaguely connected to a possible answer.
  • Body language – I’m terrible for this as I am always catching myself dry-wringing my hands or fiddling with a pen: all signs of discomfort and being unsure of oneself.
  • Use the questioner’s name in your response. Confident people use other people’s names when they talk. Practice this with your friends. It might be slightly odd, but then isn’t dealing with feeling odd a confidence thing anyway?
  • Go on an improvisation course – Seriously, this will give you the practice and skills to be able to think on your feet, appear confident and absolutely own any off-the-cuff questions and situations that might arise.

I don’t know

I don’t mind admitting I don’t know something but I hate having to take away actions from a meeting but if all else fails “I don’t have the answer right now, but let me reach out to some colleagues and get the answer for you in the next 24hrs.”

Hopefully I’ll remember some of these for the next client meetings I have (and I have a few coming up!)

Olympic Rings – Beginners exercises

Rings based exercise

In April this year I started working on gymnastic based exercises and I started working with a personal trainer  who introduced me to Olympic Rings (Amazon link to some good ones) and bodyweight workouts.

Anyone who follows me on facebook or Instagram will have seen various pictures and videos of my workouts and progression and a friend of mine recently picked up a set of rings for himself and asked me what he should be working on. I wrote the following as an email but here it is for the world to see for all those others out there who want to learn some rings based exercises but are not sure where to start.

There are lots of exercises and routines to work on on YouTube and other places but I find having just a few to work on focuses my training and means faster progression. The following are the essentials that I’ve been working on. You may want to do some others so checkout the sources section at the bottom.

False Grip

This is essential for working on muscleup and pullups on the rings. This video is the best I can find and gives you a really good idea of how to work on it.

This will take time (it took me 3 weeks I think) to master and will be sore the first few times.

Support position

Aim to get to the point where you can hold at the top for 30 secs for 5 sets with 2min break between sets. This will hurt your chest, ribs and rotators and you’ll be wobbling all over the place until you build the muscles to control stability (which thankfully should grow relatively quickly)

It is essential work for most ring-based exercises. Progression involves starting to hold support with your hands slightly further away from your body.

Pullups on Rings

Self explanatory really but make sure you’re in false grip (above). When you’re doing pullups, aim to bring your nipples to your hands. Point your elbows forward and keep the rings as close to your body as possible – further away = harder. When you’re working to progress into muscleup, you’ll get to this point, then do an imaginary header through the straps and transition into a deep dip.

Aim to do 5 sets of 5 and don’t hang around. There is rebound effect to use when you come down: come down and then bounce straight into the next rep. This applies to all exercises including dips.

Ring Dips

[only the first 3 mins or so of the following video]

Start doing regular dips and aim for 5 sets of 5 dips.

When you get to the top (unlike in the video above), twist your hands out so your palms are facing forward (this is Support Position).

Aim to progress to dips with a weight jacket then on to these:

Bodyweight Flyes

I love these bad boys! Hang the rings really low (4-6in) to the ground and start in a pushup position on the rings with the straps running up your arms and shoulders, body in plank position (you can start on your knees and progress to toes). Keeping your arms straight (straight!!), allow your arms to go out horizontally either side of you. Hold for 2/3 secs and squeeze your arms together to come back in. Make sure you keep your shoulders above your elbows and your arms straight (otherwise you’re just doing a pushup).

This video is using TRX straps (also worth investigating) and relatively poor technique but gives you some idea

Ab Rollouts

Start in the same position as the flyes but push your arms forward, hold for 2/3 secs and then squeeze to bring back in. I find this really hard, especially on my lower back which often results in my collapsing. As a result, I’ve been working on back-ups, dead lifts etc to strengthen it. In terms of form, aim to keep your body in the same position throughout the exercise so it’s only your arms that change angle as they go forward and back to vertical.

Mental video here:

Front & Back Lever

Levers are probably my weakest area because, like everyone: we all have our weak areas, my lats are my weakest muscles and are receiving a lot of attention from me at the gym and on the rings.

Back lever (awesome video as it has other preparatory work):

Front Lever (I’m a big fan of Sam’s work – checkout his videos of doing Cyr Wheel!):

Ring Muscleup

This video will get you doing muscleups in no time (though I would suggest that the guy has his rings too far apart in transition from pullup to dip and you’d do well to keep them closer to your body – aim to have your hands touching your body all the way through).

Sources

I strongly recommend you checkout Strength Project. They have loads of inspirational stuff and awesome tutorials.

Barstarzz – Another essential channel and website (and Instagram actually)

Ring Fraternity – Actually discovered these guys putting this together and their tutorials on YouTube are awesome! Checkout the Muscleup one.

There are loads of other exercises and stuff to do but I’ve found that having too many results in me not doing any, so I’ve put down a few here to get you going.

Let me know how you get on and share the videos!

How to make a princess cake from scratch

Making a princess cake from scratch…

…was a tough challenge to set myself for my daughter’s 5th Birthday party.


I hunted for a recipe or in fact recipes around the internet and they all either lead to spam sites or overly complex and just-plain-weird sites.

But I did it in the end.

Completed Princess Birthday Cake made from scratch

 

I should point out (in case it wasn’t obvious from the photo) that I’m not a professional cake maker; I’m just a regular dad.

In case you fancied a go at making one too, I brought together several recipes for the different elements for you here on this page (original recipes referenced as well). Continue reading “How to make a princess cake from scratch”

A valentine love poem for my daughter

To My Beautiful Princess,

 

Your eyes always twinkle and shine like star light,

Your smile makes me giggle and laugh with delight.

Your hugs and affection are second to none,

and I hear you are even good to your mum.

I can’t help but smile just hearing your name,

and seeing you sleeping does just the same.

And whether you’re here of we’re far apart,

you’ll always be part of me…

...Here, in my heart.

Love Dad xxx

I should point out that there is a little bit of back story to why I wrote this and that original post for this valentines poem is at kidmunication.com