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Watch Your Language

I am a firm believer that the language we use affects us in different ways. [1]

Here are two examples.

Example 1: Language That Suggests Aiming For Something You Can’t Achieve

Take, for instance, the phrase, “Fix the relationship.” You may hear yourself say these words if you have a poor relationship with a client or a co-worker. The problem is that relationships require constant work and ‘fixing’ suggests an end state. So, by aiming for something ill-defined, we place pressure on ourselves to achieve the impossible.

Change the language to ‘improve’, ‘invest time in’, or ‘grow’, and we create opportunities to achieve small successes every day. These words provide flexibility rather than rigidity.

What words or phrases are you using that create pressure or stress you don’t need to feel? What could you be saying instead?

Example 2: Using Words You Haven’t Defined For Yourself

There are some big words we use a lot that convey different meanings to different people. When I hear clients use these words, I like to ask them what they mean to them. Often, they haven’t given the words much thought and, as such, are not aware of the effect those words are having.

Here are some of my favourites. Take some time to think about what they mean to you:

  • Success. Success means different things to different people. I often hear, “I want to be successful”. When I ask, “What does success look like for you?”, it becomes apparent that it’s a question that hasn’t been given much thought. How do you define your success?
  • Confidence. “I want to build my confidence” is another common aspiration. What does confidence mean to you? Many people haven’t given that much thought either.
  • Leadership. People want to be good leaders and there is power in understanding what that means to them. Again, it’s personal to everyone and there is no one-size-fits-all.

What words are you using, or have you heard used by others, without thinking about what they really mean?

Think about the impact your language is having on you.


[1] That doesn’t mean I always get it right for myself.

Try This At Home

Try This At Home

Or in the office. [1]

Today I’m going to channel a little bit of Tim Urban and use some poorly drawn diagrams to demonstrate a tool to assist you with development of your self awareness. This is a method I have used with a number of clients with great success.

And it’s pretty simple. [2]

Start with a blank page, preferably a big one. Draw a line through the middle.

Turn the line into a timeline.

Add your age to the timeline.

Now add the significant events in your life to the timeline.

Now, split your timeline up into phases based on your reflections. Add more events as they come to mind.

Finally, ask yourself some (or all) of the following questions [3]:

  1. What patterns do you see?
  2. What is the significance of the events you chose?
  3. What have you learned over your life?
  4. What strengths did you use to overcome the challenges of your life?
  5. How can you use those strengths to meet current and future challenges?
  6. What have the events of your life taught you about your values?
  7. How have the labels you have given yourself shaped your behaviour?
  8. What happened to shift you from one phase to the next?
  9. What meaning do you make of the events and phases of your life?
  10. What haven’t you included? Why?

This timeline tool allows you to take a step back and gain a different perspective on the events of your life. As I mentioned in note [3] below, you will discover more by being as open to the events of your life as you can. I have provided one approach above. There are a variety of ways to tackle this, so I encourage you to experiment and see what you uncover. Things you may want to include are:

  • Places you’ve lived.
  • Jobs you’ve held.
  • Significant people you’ve met.
  • Relationships.
  • And many more. Use your imagination.

If you’d like some assistance with going through this process, you can contact me at Campbell Leadership Solutions.


[1] If you are a team or organisation, you can try this activity to understand your history and organisational values. Just go through the process as a group.

[2] This is a personal example. I have used some events in my own life. When you do this, you will get increased benefit from being as honest and open with yourself as you can. The more detail you include the better.

[3] This is not an exhaustive list. Feel free to ask yourself additional questions not listed here.

Which Character Are You? [Part 2]

Yesterday I discussed the concept of adopting different character roles to provide options for approaching difficult issues in work and life.

Thank you to everyone who provided additional roles and characters from the ones listed yesterday. It was great to hear your stories and suggestions and the different actors you see play out in them, either by yourself or by others.

By way of thanks, here is an additional list of characters to choose from based on the feedback from yesterday’s post:

  • Actor/Actress
  • Analyst
  • Assistant
  • Big Brother/Sister
  • Confidant
  • Devil’s Advocate
  • Engineer
  • Executive
  • King/Queen

  • Martyr
  • Partner
  • Peace Maker
  • Prince/Princess
  • Provider
  • Soldier
  • Thinker
  • Villain
  • Writer

There is an infinite number of roles we can play, which means there is an endless number of options on how we can approach our issues.

That’s powerful.


Which Character Are You?

How complicit are you in creating the conditions you say you don’t want? [1]

I’ve written a few times about the stories we tell ourselves. I’ve also discussed how we are characters in those stories. Let’s take that theme a little further.

Think about an issue you are trying to resolve at the moment. One you are finding difficult or frustrating.

Now, here is a list of potential character roles you might be filling in that story [2]:

  • Advisor
  • Artist
  • Architect
  • Boss
  • Builder
  • Carer
  • Coach
  • Collaborator
  • Communicator
  • Conductor
  • Counsellor
  • Dictator
  • Disruptor
  • Doctor
  • Expert
  • Follower
  • Gate Keeper
  • Innovator
  • Judge
  • Leader
  • Listener
  • Manager
  • Mentor
  • Nurse
  • Observer
  • Outsider
  • Participant
  • Passenger
  • Planner
  • Player
  • Prisoner
  • Story Teller
  • Student
  • Supporter
  • Teacher
  • Victim

Can you pick one that resonates for you? Pick one and then answer these questions:

  • How does the character you chose, normally act?
  • How does being that character have you acting? 
  • How are others responding to that character?

Now, pick a different character. Pick one you would like to be in this story and answer these questions:

  • How would the new character normally act?
  • If you were this character, how would that have you changing your behaviour?
  • How would others respond to you if you were that new character?

Repeat the exercise until you find the character, behaviour and response that you are after.


[1] I first heard this question when listening to a podcast hosted by Tim Ferriss. I can’t recall the source of the quote. I would be grateful to anyone who may have more information.

[2] There are many more characters. Which ones haven’t I listed?