Is your Playbook shrinking your life?

If I asked you to describe your personal Playbook, what would you say?

You’d probably start by asking exactly what I meant. Perhaps you’d consult Wikipedia or maybe Google, which, after a little digging would offer you the following pragmatic description from

Think of a playbook like a detailed reference guide stored and accessed in your unconscious brain. When you get new information, become confused, run into trouble, or try to achieve a goal, you turn to your playbook to tell you what to do. Actual playbooks are common in sports, where coaches will document their plans for a game. When a new situation presents itself, the coach turns to the playbook to figure out what to do.

So, what’s in your Playbook? And do you think it’s serving you well? And specifically, do you operate from a Playbook based on fear or one grounded in love?

If self-awareness is your thing, the chances are you might try some answers to those questions, but for many, their Playbook functions mostly on autopilot. Like breathing, it operates without their conscious intervention, offering up familiar choices and responses time after time.

When you get to know someone well, you can sometimes glimpse the nature of their personal Playbook. You can start to predict their reactions to situations and challenges with a degree of certainty and make observations about the level of fear or love that seems to drive their choices. Often a someone else’s Playbook is much easier to read than our own.

While we are often told that fear is a bad thing it’s not always true. Fear can keep you alive – it’s natures survival mechanism designed to alert you in life-threatening situations. We should be glad it’s there so we can get the Hell Out of Dodge When Shit Happens. The problems start when we allow fear to dominate our Playbook strategies. Because while fear can protect you, too much fear can shrink your life.

If you are considering the nature of your own Playbook, it might help you to look at your life objectively. Is it where you hoped it would be? Has your life evolved or become more limited in nature? Have your decisions and choices reflected a desire to grow and expand or to avoid risk, err on the side of caution and maintain the status quo? Too much fear will act as a brake on your choices instead of taking a chance, accepting a new opportunity or allowing yourself to pursue your dreams, fear will counsel avoidance, tell you to opt for safety, urge you to stick to what you know and always ask for permission.

While we all experience fear to some degree, it will always be a more limiting theme in our Playbook than love. Love represents opportunity and connection. It inspires, generates curiosity and gratitude in life and represents all that it possible. It urges you to think outside the box, to embrace compassion, tolerance and curiosity.

If you think you might need to change your Playbook, you will need to examine its contents and edit out what’s not working for you. While this is often the task of a lifetime, even small changes can liberate you from frustration and begin to open new pathways. A colleague of mine recently changed the way she approached difficult conversations with others. Instead of mentally preparing her defences with the perfect rebuttal, she chose instead to listen carefully to what the other person was saying until they finished. Instead of instantly disagreeing with that persons view, she decided that curiosity might be a more productive path and simply asked why they felt that way? Her reward for changing her unconscious response has been fewer arguments and much speedier compromises. Changing her Playbook is paying off in terms of improved relationships and less stress.

Improving self-awareness is an important part of re-creating the contents of your Playbook and there are many ways to develop this essential capability from mindfulness through to the more traditional-needs based or preference-based personality models. As a corporate consultant and change coach, I’ve worked with a number of toolsets over the years to help people understand themselves and change the way they communicate, lead and manage others.

These days, I also partner with horses to help people develop the kind of rapid self-awareness that seems unlikely unless you have experienced it for yourself. While theoretical models can help people understand what drives their choices and behaviours, and so what may provide the foundations for their personal Playbook, a horse gives us immediate insight into the in-the-moment consequences of our Playbook strategies.

But whatever your chosen pathway, just remember that while you may not be able to change the direction of the wind, you can adjust your sails and still reach your destination. Life will always present challenges and opportunities but only you can adapt and evolve your Playbook to ensure that you thrive.

If you’d like to change your Playbook and explore how horses can help you deepen your self awareness and make change, please email or check out our upcoming workshops.

Curbing the need to over-control

136When we are in the grip of one of life’s transitions, when someone is pushing our buttons or when something unexpected turns up, it’s tempting to grab control and try to force an outcome to fit our own agenda. After all, sitting with vulnerability, anger, frustration, disappointment and a myriad of other emotions can be deeply uncomfortable. And it’s important to be in control, right? It’s important to be moving the chess pieces in our own universe rather than let events hold the upper hand?

But there can be problems with this approach:

  • We often cannot see the big picture and so have little idea of what the outcome could be if we allowed it to unfold by itself. By trying to control the situation too soon, we block its inherent potential and could lose the opportunity to transform ourselves and our circumstances.
  • When we are motivated by fear, vulnerability and anxiety, we’re not really thinking straight. We’re consumed by our flight instinct and a need to feel safe at all costs. If you’re being pursued by a tiger, then get the hell out of Dodge (or wherever your tiger might be). But if you are trying to over-control one of life’s many changes because you just cannot bear the discomfort of uncertainty, you may be stuck in your safe zone and miss the chance to transform your life for the better. Fear is not a positive start point for inspired action.
  • It’s almost impossible to control everything that happens to you or other people’s behaviour. You will exhaust yourself trying and quickly feel rather like a hamster in a wheel, as more troublesome events and challenging people present themselves to you continuously.

If you are a planner or list-maker by nature, you will be even more tempted to put structure, timeframes and boundaries into whatever uncertainty is around you. And while planning is essential at times, it’s can be counter-productive when used as an initial knee-jerk reaction to feeling vulnerable.

So, what can you do when you feel out of control of events and people? How should you handle those sometimes deeply unsettling feelings of uncertainty?

1)   Cultivate your curiosity. Consider how your life might change for the better if you allowed a change or event to unfold a little before you try to force it into a certain shape. Is it possible that this change might bring you more opportunities or options if you allowed some time for it to develop? In what way could you explore the possibilities of this change, transition or event to better understand its positive potential for you?

2)   Engage active distraction. Your emotions provide you with great guidance – they indicate when you are happy and peaceful and when you are feeling anxious and vulnerable. Instead of leaping to try to control the unknown, how could you distract yourself? What circuit breakers can you employ to allow things to progress a little before you decide to leap into action? For some people this might be exercise or meditation or the movies, for others it might be a chat with a good friend, a walk in the countryside or cooking creatively. The idea is to choose something which lifts you out of the urgent need to control or fix a situation. Choose something which either requires you to focus or which provides plenty of stimulation. You need to shift your attention away from what is and see the broader world around you.  The rule of thumb is to move into action only when you are feeling good, rather than from a position of anxiety.

3)   Accept what is. This is a hard one for many of us but acceptance can provide a clear pathway to feeling peaceful. When you step back and look at a situation from a broader perspective, you may quickly realise that there is little you can do to control it anyway. Accepting things as they are allows you to more easily consider what might be possible, rather than spending endless time worrying or feeling frustrated or angry. Imagine all the time and effort you spend swimming against a strong tide, when it’s likely that the tide will sweep you towards the beach anyway. It’s simpler just to surf the waves into shore.

4)   Trust your intuition. It knows when you should allow events to unfold and when you really need to act. Your intuition is your inner guidance that normally makes suggestions seconds before your brain gets in the way to try to run the show. It may often contradict your brain but its guidance shouldn’t be dismissed instantly. It has our best interests at heart, while our brain can sometimes be serving our frightened ego.

5)   Remember the well-worn advice – you cannot control how others behave, you can only control your own response to them. While it’s not always easy to change how you feel or your own practiced behaviours, it is possible and more likely if you have a real desire to experience your life differently.  If you are consumed by the outrageous or offensive behaviour of someone at home or work, try focussing on something that is working in your life. It could be your fabulous garden, or your footy team or simply the joy of being around your children and animals. Explore all the positives and enjoy the feeling of relief that there are good things in your life as well as frustrations. Wallow in the good feelings before you turn your mind back to resolving more challenging issues. It will allow you to step back enough to look relationships with more perspective. It will also allow you the emotional space to engage your intuition and increase the likelihood of finding different solutions to seemingly deadlocked situations.

6)   Choose to be happy rather than to be right. Can you let go of the need to be right, to control the beginning the middle and the end? If you had the choice between being right or being happy, what would you choose? What has happened to you in the past when you have chosen the need to be right, to have the last word, over the need to be happy?

Managing your urge to control every unfolding situation can be life-changing. It can also provide emotional relief when anxiety and worry has left you feeling frazzled. This isn’t about advocating inaction – far from it. It’s about planning and acting from a place of considered perspective, from informed choice and from thoughtfulness. It’s about knowing that you haven’t acted out of fear or frustration but from feelings of inspiration and hopefulness.

Towards emotionally intelligent change


When the infrastructure of my life went up in smoke – literally – over seven years ago, my trajectory altered abruptly. It was a sudden, unexpected and traumatic change.

I learnt that when change is that abrupt, almost the only choice left to me was how I chose to think and feel about what had just happened, as almost everything else was out of my control. As it turns out, it was a very powerful lesson and one which allowed me to embrace that particular change as a new way forward and a pathway to different opportunities and choices.

But there is something very final and emphatic about the aftermath of a devastating bushfire. There is no denial, no bargaining to be done. What was once there –  a home, belongings and a whole way of life – is gone in minutes. And while you can theoretically re-build and go back, in truth, things will never really be the same again. Your old life lies in ashes and there is little choice but to move forward into a changed future.

The impact of sudden unexpected change can be debilitating as well as liberating. I lived through and documented the emotional rollercoaster of the year that followed the bushfire in my book The Flipside of Misfortune. So I don’t for one moment play down the difficulty of handling such an enormous upheaval. However, sitting here at my desk on a late winters day, I’m wondering if it’s easier to deal with a change which is thrust upon you unexpectedly or to initiate difficult changes yourself?

Acknowledging what needs to change in our lives is the first step on the journey of transformation. When we begin to feel deeply uncomfortable about some aspect of our lives, it’s usually a sign that something about the way we are being or living has reached its use by date.

But getting unstuck from a situation means making an end to something so that there is space for new ideas, thoughts, beliefs, directions, situations and relationships to come in. And making an end to something inevitably means change which is where it can get hard for those of us who find the accompanying feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability to be almost overwhelming.

I’m in the middle of a deliberate change right now. A couple of months ago I finished up my safe and comfortable job with a client I had been working with for almost 4 years. I did this so that I could concentrate fully on my own business – something which had been receiving only a small part of my attention for far too long. Since I was working on contract, there was no payout, no holiday leave to cash in, nothing due from either side to conclude the arrangement. I walked away and left good colleagues and friends, a safe and friendly environment and the security of regular paid work. It was a mutually grateful parting with good wishes on either side and although it was only two months ago, it already seems like a lifetime in the past.

There a very old, calm part of me that just knows I have to do this – whatever the outcome – because it’s a part of who I am and why I’m here. But that deep knowing is regularly ambushed by feelings of fear and vulnerability and occasionally by quite agonising self-doubt which was not so much a part of my initial journey after the bushfire.

So I’m discovering that the first act of any deliberate change – getting unstuck and making an end to what was – is a process, not an event. Making a conscious end to something doesn’t means that things are automatically changed – while you might be able to make a physical break with a situation, it doesn’t always follow that you’ve let it go. I find myself searching for symbolic ways to tell both myself and the universe that Things Are Different Now. That I don’t intend to put things back the way they were and so I’m going to be fully invested in this new pathway. And yet my old patterns of thinking intrude and try to take over in precisely those moments which would best lend themselves to a new way of being.

As I search for balance in this uncertain transition, my mind urges me to pack my day with activity, to lose myself in doing so that I can insulate myself against the discomfort. Intuitively I know that the turbulent swirl of uncertainty in my head is mostly noise and that my priority is to stay balanced and let things unfold. But my ego feels threatened and crowds my thoughts with all the old doubts that still seem to exert a surprising amount of power. What if you try, it asks, and it still doesn’t work out? What if you fail? What then?

Actually it’s (un)helpfully pointing out the main difference this time around – the fact that I’m driving this deliberate act of change. I’m choosing this change of direction. I’m the one making an end to one pathway and actively choosing to live parts of my as yet unlived life. I’m ending something when I don’t technically have to, and which for many years has represented safety, security and familiarity in my life. I’m doing this to follow my inspiration and to open myself up to the potential of a new choice. This time there’s no bushfire driving me out – it’s my judgement, my self-belief and my ability to deliver on my dreams that is on the line.

And herein lies the rub. While it took courage and resilience to manage the aftermath of a bushfire, there were few real expectations of me around that change. There was no recipe to follow, no real tried and trusted way, no test at the end. People were happy just to see me recovering and getting back on my feet. And so I just felt my way forward, applying common sense and at times, downright stubbornness to get me through. I had help and support, I made mistakes but no one was really keeping score.

But this new deliberate change is less about my physical survival and much more about the survival of my sense of who I am. And if I’m putting Who I Am on the line – if I’m risking my hopes and dreams – no wonder I’m feeling anxious and no wonder I’ve stayed safe and stuck for so long.

I look out of the window and the sun is still high in the sky, unperturbed and shining. A small breeze moves the branches of nearby gums and I wonder how to deal with the emotional reality of this choice I’ve made. How do I calm my worried ego? How do I reassure the vital, inner me that wants to emerge and shine in the warmth of this sun and share her positivity with others? How do I trust that this will all work out when I have no idea if it will or what it will look like? How do I sift through the fears and vulnerabilities and frustrations to determine how to think and feel about the future so that I can start to create one?

I have a renewed sense of awe and respect for all those innovators, creators and entrepreneurs who have gone before me. All those who have put themselves on the line to try something new, say something to others or create something from their sense of self. All of that required spadesful of risk, courage and belief. It also required trust – in oneself and in a universe that might just be persuaded to cooperate on this grand new adventure. I wonder how many of them found this process of making an end to their old lives, easy? How many of them stopped their old day jobs or changed the direction of their lives and instantly felt comfortable and at peace with all that followed? Not many I’m guessing.

The physical change may in fact be the easiest part of this whole process but making the associated mental and emotional changes is more fluid and much harder to navigate. I have to find ways to make peace with my worries so that I create enough space and time to allow the bones of my change to properly form. By finding ways to acknowledge those doubts and fears, I can stay true to myself – stay congruent – and allow them to become a part of the process, rather than something I suppress and which trips me up later.

Much of the challenge of deliberate change would seem to lie in how we manage ourselves – and specifically our emotions – as part of the process. It’s much less about what we are doing and far more about who we are being from moment to moment. For example, I could choose to suppress my feelings of fear and vulnerability and pack my day with tasks and activities but if I carry on this way, the chances are that my unacknowledged feelings will simply escalate until emotions ambush me again, eroding my confidence and sense of stability by stealth. Ignoring how I feel won’t ultimately help me – it will just make it more likely that I will eventually listen to the voices of self-doubt and give up on this change. And I suspect that this is what happens to many of us as we try to make long overdue changes in our lives. We begin with optimism and positivity which slowly drains away from us as we increasingly listen to our doubts and fears. Eventually, tired, sad and frustrated we often return to the familiarity of our old ways just to get some peace and to feel less vulnerable.

But there is another way – I could choose the pathway of emotionally intelligent change. I could choose to acknowledge and examine those emotions a bit more clearly, understanding and acting on them as information rather than allowing them to unnerve me to the point that they send me scurrying back to the familiarity of what was, before I have really given my dreams a chance.

Picking up a pen and grabbing a pad, I start to work through the foremost of my worries:

As far as I can see, I’m not being chased by a tiger or about to be run over by a bus. So while I may feel anxious about the future, I’m not in any immediate danger. I’m not frightened for my safety so I don’t need to run away.

So if I’m not out scared for my safety, then I’m probably just feeling very vulnerable and that’s normal given the circumstances. I can forgive myself for feeling vulnerable and I can also use this emotion to help me consider that this change might feel difficult right now but also has the potential to open up new possibilities, opportunities and pleasures. Perhaps it’s even something of a signpost? An indication of a challenge I need to take for my own growth and benefit? Perhaps I just need to sit in with this uncomfortable feeling because it just might have something to show me over time. Plus, as I know from my experience with the bushfire, I can always ask for help.

If I gave up now and ran back to my day job, how would I feel? How would I feel if I looked at this great golden opportunity and let my self-doubt and fear of failure chase me off? Defeated I think. Plus, I would probably never forgive myself for not grabbing this moment and giving it a go.

And what is failure anyway? Who gets to judge it? If I’m setting my own goals, then the only person who determines success or failure is me. I will probably make mistakes and you know what, I’ll going to use them as just more information rather than as a way to beat myself up.

And finally (for now), as I’m on a roll, what might happen if I managed to drop all my resistance to this change? If I asked all my concerns and doubts and worries to wait peacefully to one side so that I can really get on with this new path? I can always go consult them if I need to but it’s not like I really need their advice regularly as I know most of it off by heart already. Can we all shake hands and agree to take a break from each other for the time being? I’m eager to breathe the clear air and the feel the flow of energy that comes from shaking off the past.

Feeling deeply, uncomfortably vulnerable can be a big part of any transformation. It can derail both personal and professional changes so easily and yet it’s such a useful emotion which is packed with information – it tells us to pay attention to what’s on the horizon, to consider just how life could evolve to benefit us, if we could just allow it to unfold without panicking. Developing a tolerance for vulnerability allows us to bring more of ourselves forward and by admitting that we can be frail at times, we enable others to connect with and form trusting relationships more easily.

Becoming emotionally adept at deliberate change could just make the difference between getting properly unstuck or dwelling in the murky twilight zone of never properly letting go of the past. Besides, suppressing our thoughts and emotions around change just doesn’t seem smart since it increases our stress levels and reduces our ability to think clearly and creatively.

While many us of are now aware of the concept and importance of emotional intelligence, actively accessing and learning to work with emotions on a daily basis is not taught routinely either at school or work. In fact, the opposite is often true as we are encouraged not to ‘become emotional’ or not to ‘take something too personally’. We are encouraged to intellectually understand emotions as something that ‘happens’ to us and others when we go through change, but there’s very limited practical advice about how to work with them as a normal and useful part of the transition. Sometimes it seems as if we can talk about emotions neutrally but allowing ourselves to actually feel them, understand their message and act on that information can be infinitely more challenging

Getting properly unstuck and making long overdue changes is going to be emotional at times. And it’s time that we did more than just acknowledge it or try to suppress it – it’s time that we welcomed it in and worked with its many useful and practical messages as signposts on the pathway to our changed lives.

Much later, walking down the laneway towards my stables in the late afternoon, my gaze is drawn as always to my horses grazing lazily in the sunshine. They are peaceful and sleepy, waiting for their dinner and for the quiet of the evening. Horses are inherently emotional creatures, able to read body language, emotion and intent quite accurately at a distance. In fact, their ability to read and act on emotions and intent has kept them safe as a species from predators for thousands of years. These emotionally intelligent masters are able to feel, understand and act on emotions quickly and simply before returning to grazing once danger has passed. They have acquired an ability to access and act on emotion that many humans struggle with daily and I am blessed to have these partners in change to help me on my journey forward.

As I approach, Walker lifts his head and stares at me curiously. He is the leader of this herd and was with me on the day that deadly bushfires turned both our lives upside down. Somehow he survived and has thrived through all the changes since. And as he looks at me now, I realise how far we have both come since that day in February 2009. The old part of me sighs inwardly and I finally begin to look forward to this new – and this time deliberate – change.


For more information on using emotions as information, please see Linda Kohanov’s emotional message chart, from her book The Power of the Herd (New World Library, 2013). It can be downloaded from