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Unusual Methods, Unmatched Mastery

Imagine Demosthenes, the ancient Greek equivalent of a reality TV star with a penchant for extreme self-improvement methods. There he is, a mouthful of pebbles, not because he loves rock candy, but because he’s trying to conquer a speech impediment that makes public speaking a rocky ride. And just when you think he can’t get any more eccentric, there’s Demosthenes, huffing and puffing down the streets of Athens, practicing speeches on the run—perhaps the first-ever moving orator!

Suffering from a speech impediment that made him the butt of ridicule, Demosthenes refused to cower. Instead, he embraced the criticisms with gusto, turning them into a rigorous self-improvement regimen. By stuffing his mouth with stones, he forced himself to articulate more clearly, a practice as bizarre as it was effective. He would also deliver speeches while running or against the noisy backdrop of crashing waves, pushing his vocal limits to project his voice further.

These antics, as odd as they might seem, catapulted him to become one of history’s most esteemed orators. It’s a compelling reminder that life’s lessons often come from the most unexpected places and methods.

Demosthenes exercising to speak at the edge of the sea (Photo: Shutterstock)

Demosthenes teaches us the power of converting criticism into motivation. Think about it: the very things people mock you for could be transformed into your greatest strengths. Your critics? Unwittingly, they might just be handing you your most potent weapons.

Consider your own challenges. Maybe you’re an aspiring marketing guru but struggle with copywriting. Instead of giving up in frustration, why not double down on honing the necessary sub-skills? Creativity, audience insight, conciseness, and an understanding of psychology might be areas to develop. Inspired by Demosthenes’ pebble technique, try reinventing headlines each day to sharpen your creativity and brevity. It’s about identifying and mastering the foundational skills that build towards your larger goal.

Remember, when you’re stuck or feel outmatched, ask yourself: Which underlying skill am I missing, aka, what’s my pebble? What unique, perhaps slightly bizarre strategy can propel me forward? Use that to transform your stumbling blocks into stepping stones. After all, sometimes the path to greatness is paved with the most unexpected pebbles.

Copyright ©2024 by David Waweru. Image credit: Peter Paul Rubens via The British Museum

Finding Beauty in Everyday Moments

On a road trip as a child, my older brother and I kept boredom at bay by playing the ‘I spy’ game.

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with the letter ‘C’.”






He shook his head. I tried a few more. Nada.

“I give up.”

“Clouds!” my brother said, rolling his large eyes as he pointed upwards. I hit my head with my palm, peeved that my normally keen observation skills were a let-down this time. I had looked all around but forgotten to look up. He offered a sympathetic smile and a flash of white teeth.

Children are generally more observant of their surroundings than adults. With wide-eyed wonder and curiosity, they observe all the world has to offer with fascination. Birds, butterflies, flowers, bits of paper tossed about by the wind; all are scrutinized with keen interest, and if there’s an adult around, a barrage of questions will follow. Familiar?

Then we grow up.

We lose our sense of wonder. We’ve seen it all. No new discoveries to make. We get lost in our thoughts or flit through days on autopilot.

It’s said that there’s nothing new under the sun. True. Still, our knowledge is limited. And the opportunities for exploration every day are vast, reason to live wide-eyed. This can only happen if we learn to be observant; if we can re-learn the art of contemplating the world with the natural fascination of little children.

How well-developed are your observation skills? If not up to scratch, chances are that you’re missing important details. And, therefore, making less-informed decisions. Poor observation skills will also rob you of the potential to be inspired or intrigued, consigning you to an average experience of life. You may lose out on opportunities to engage meaningfully with people, places, and situations around you.

Splitting hairs? Not really. There’s a distinction between ‘observing’ and ‘seeing.’ The latter is passive. Take, for instance, your regular commutes. You probably see everything around you, but how often do you uncover new things, or note down information you could use later?

On the other hand, when you observe, you pay attention—intently and actively. You discern details that bring better understanding and help you connect the dots, enabling you to reach well-informed conclusions and to solve problems more effectively. These abilities can strengthen your interpersonal and workplace skills, improving the way you interact with people and the environments around you.

I have good news for you. It’s possible to develop your powers of observation. Yes, you can train your brain to observe more. Here are some tips––

·      Slow down and be present. Practice being fully in the moment, engage with what’s happening around you.

·      Be curious. Approach situations with an inquisitive mindset. Ask questions, seek to understand, and explore your surroundings actively.

·      Use all your senses. Listen carefully, feel textures, smell, and even taste when appropriate. There’s research behind this. Using all your senses promotes well-being and improves understanding and retention. It even activates more parts of your brain, giving you a greater sense of vitality. Looking things up on the internet does not have the same effect.

·      Keep a journal. Note down some of your new observations and any ideas they bring to mind.

Enjoy your newfound wonder lenses. The world is so much brighter when you observe it through them.

Copyright ©2024 by David Waweru. Photo credit:

Cultivating Your Intrinsic Motivation

The 5 Second Rule

You’ve heard of the five second rule – the myth that food which falls on the floor is safe to eat, provided you pick it up within five seconds. While this rule seems ill-advised, there is another five second rule that may be well worth trying.

Motivational speaker Mel Robbins, author of the book The 5 Second Rule, tells a story of how she conquered the snooze button on her alarm clock. As soon as her alarm clock went off in the morning, she would count backwards 5-4-3-2-1, throw her beddings off, and jump out of bed. It may sound rather simplistic, but it worked. She explains that counting down interrupts your brain from thinking of all the reasons why you don’t want to, or are too afraid to get out of bed. In fact, Mel asserts that this works for any difficult task that you want to embark on. If you don’t start within five seconds of thinking of it, your brain will sabotage you by presenting you with a host of difficulties and fears.

Intrinsic Motivation

Mel’s theory is simple. If you wait to feel like doing anything difficult, it’s never going to happen.

No one gets out of bed on a freezing cold morning because they feel like it. No one stays up past midnight working on a report because they feel like it. No one runs to the finish line in a marathon just because they feel like it.

We can safely conclude two things. The first is that motivation is not a feeling. The second is that motivation has to be intrinsic. An external stimulus, like an alarm clock, is not sufficient, on its own, to get you out of bed. In the same vein, we can conclude that external stimuli, like being offered more money, can only go so far in motivating us to work harder.

We want to achieve things; to start the day earlier, to get those reports done, to exceed the sales goals that seem elusive. But how can we move from ‘wanting’ to actually ‘doing’. How can we harness that self-motivation that just seems to fly out the window every morning, leaving us feeling like tomorrow is probably a better day to begin?

Cultivating Self Discipline

Harvard psychology professor Ron Siegel says that our brains naturally warn us away from tasks that seem unpleasant to us to help us survive danger. If, for instance, you associate getting up early with feeling cold and miserable, your brain will try to protect you from doing it.

To test Professor Siegel’s premise, you might want to build new and pleasant associations in your mind to waking up early; perhaps having time to eat a delicious breakfast before work. To help get started, maybe Mel’s method – jumping out of bed before your brain kicks in – is just what you need.

What is it, inside you, keeps you going at any task even when you’re tired and just plain fed-up?

©2018 David Waweru is the Chief Learning Officer at Will to Win Global. Photo credit: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.



Productive Work Habits

During the reign of the Roman Empire, a Roman soldier could order the subject of a conquered nation to carry a package for one mile. It didn’t matter that you were actually headed in the opposite direction, or that your feet hurt, or that you still had a lot of your own work to do.

Sounds like torture, right?

A modern-day version of this has probably happened to each of us at some point in our work life. You work in sales, or in accounting, or in communications. Your boss comes along one Monday afternoon, just as you’re beginning to feel like you’ve already been at work for 20 hours. He asks you to run an errand.

“Would you make 100 copies of this document and drop them off at our client’s office? Oh, and on your way, would you deposit this cheque at the bank, please.”

What! You can’t believe what you’re hearing.

“Does this guy realize that I have a masters’ degree? Does he think I’m the messenger? Is he not seeing me right?”

Of course these thoughts are going on silently in your mind, behind a carefully painted on smile.

“Of course,” you say wryly, taking the documents. You don’t trust yourself to say more than that, and besides, you’re busy swallowing the sentiments you would much rather express.

You may not be feeling terribly happy about this scenario, but picture this – your boss is only making you to go an additional mile. If you subscribe to the ‘extra mile’ philosophy (it might even be something you put down in your CV during your job hunting days), you would say something like this:

“Sir, the coffee shop is right next to the bank. Shall I pick you a Latte on my way back?”

Never mind that he hardly remembers to make any refunds.

The first mile you were forced to go was difficult enough. Why would you take on the extra one?

The answer lies in one of the work habits of highly successful people.

Every day, people around the world are forced to go just the extra one mile. They reluctantly do it because they really don’t see any alternative. The bills are piling up and they need the pay cheque. That’s the bottom line. You’ll meet many on the road doing this single forced mile.

Most people quit at the end of that first mile and will not go one step further. But the voluntary second mile is not so populated. The second mile is really about the habitual attitude of willingness to give more and better service; to go beyond the expected; to have personal initiative. The second mile is the one that sets you free.

The second mile is an ingredient in every success story, it is an important principle of success. It is the story of the people who consistently do more than the job description demands, more than they agreed to in a relationship, more than they signed up for at the gym.

Determine to go that extra mile this week – with hope and a smile!

©2018 David Waweru is the Chief Learning Officer at Will to Win Global. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Turning Random Groups into Teams

A stalled elevator. And suddenly, the group has a purpose. A life and death purpose. To get that elevator moving, to alert someone on the outside. To find a safe way out.

An elevator is normally perhaps the most antisocial setting in the world. The unspoken rule that eye contact is frowned upon is instinctively understood by all. Certainly, no greetings are expected, or offered, among this little group of strangers thrown together for the quick ride up or down. For some, elevatophobia, the fear of elevators, is already in high gear. Even among friends riding together, conversation is suspended, or stilted at best. Only those under the age of six carry on with their chatter, fortunately oblivious.

Then the worst case scenario happens. A hiccup, a jerk, and… could it be…? Yes, the elevator grinds to an ungainly halt.

Suddenly, the group gathered in the elevator by default becomes like family; a team is born. Eyes meet for the first time. Reassurance is sought from the faces of former strangers. The newfound team members take stock of those around them. Are there any panickers? Any potential leaders?

Strengths begin to show up. Someone takes charge. Resources are shared.

Made eye contact with your teammates lately?

Some ‘teams’ feel a lot like the group in the elevator before it broke down. You probably didn’t pick your teammates. You reported to work on the first day, and like walking into an elevator, there they were. For whatever reason, you find yourselves in the same space.

Has your team made eye contact recently; really taken a good look at each other? Has one had a baby recently? Lost a parent recently? Been diagnosed with cancer?

Have you and your teammates had a real conversation of late? Do you know what each one is passionate about? Do they know what gets you out of bed in the morning?

Psychological safety

A few years ago, Google embarked on Project Aristotle, a study to figure out what makes the perfect team. They already had the idea that combining the right people would form perfect teams, but what were the best combinations? Was it common interests? Similar personalities? Gender balance? How much they socialized outside work? Ove several years they studied 180 of their own teams, looking for patterns that would reveal the answer. What they found out astounded them.

It was not the ‘who’ of the team make-up that made a difference. It was ‘psychological safety’ – an atmosphere in which team members connect with each other on a deeper personal level.

Just as the group in the stalled elevator started off as a random group of people, so it is with our teams at work. We become a team when we begin to look at each other and identify other human beings with whom we can connect.Are you a team member at work or in any other setting? What makes your team feel like a team?

©2018 David Waweru is the Chief Learning Officer at Will to Win Global. Photo credit: Ricardo Mancia, Unsplash

Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence

What would be different if we devoted as much time developing our emotional intelligence as we do our IQ?

A common but mistaken belief is that emotions belong at home, not at the workplace; that they are to be put down at the front door when you leave your house, and only be picked up again when you return. Mind and body are sufficient to accomplish our jobs, we think. And so displays of emotion at work are generally frowned upon.

The thing is, a man and his emotions, a woman and her emotions, are not so easily separated. Try as we may to suppress them, emotions have an uncanny way of rising to the surface at unexpected moments.

There’s nothing wrong with experiencing emotions, even those we consider negative, such as anger or frustration. There should be greater concern, perhaps, for people who find it difficult to express emotions.

Emotions are what make us human. And they follow and influence us wherever we go. Even to the workplace. Better, then, to acknowledge them and become more aware of them; and what better way to achieve self-control – an essential quality for success in all areas of life.

The choices we make, especially while we’re experiencing emotions, are what matters most.

Acting with emotional intelligence – the ability to perceive, comprehend, and regulate our emotions effectively – is a skill we can all learn and develop with some practice. For example, we can control our reaction, for instance when we feel angry, by just pausing.

Take 6 seconds before you act

In the words of Lawrence Peter, author of The Peter Principle, “Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

The solution? Six seconds.

Research shows that it takes about six seconds for the chemicals caused by an emotional reaction to be reabsorbed into our bodies. A six second pause is probably the best way to spend the moments after someone gets your blood boiling. You can apply this tip anywhere – at home, at work, and on the road as well.

Pausing is probably even more important before you hit the send button on an angry email – and regret it forever. Email mostly cannot be recalled. Even in cases where you have few seconds to recall it, the regret won’t come flooding till it’s too late. The embarrassment that you go through after calming down is unavoidable.

What can you do in six seconds?

Deep breathing is helpful. Take a deep breath, hold it, and breathe out. This takes just about the six seconds that you need to regulate your emotions and respond more appropriately.

If a deep breath doesn’t seem appropriate in the situation (maybe you don’t want to appear obviously exasperated) you can develop other ways to pause for six seconds – a poem or tongue twister perhaps; or a favorite song, hopefully one that has happy memories, or cheers you up. Hum it in your mind, not under your breath, lest you appear to have gone off the deep end, especially if your face is beginning to show signs of the anger you’re feeling deep down.

Once your emotions are settled, you can evaluate the situation more rationally. Is it worth losing your dignity for? Hurting a relationship? Ending a career?

With more practice, you’ll soon realize that it’s possible to control your responses, re-frame your thinking, handle accidental outbursts, and channel your emotions productively.

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