#2: Living the Life You Want to Lead with Dorinda Phillips

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Meet behavioural change expert DORINDA PHILLIPS who is passionate about helping people live the life they want to lead and creating the world they want to live in. With special expertise in developing the most powerful skill of them all – learning how to learn – Dorinda reveals the life skills that she believes are critical to each of us thriving as individuals and as a society.


New Beginnings
Life Skills


Take Time For Your Life by Cheryl Richardson

Assertiveness at Work by Ken Back

Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck

Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future by Daniel Pink


The Windward Way – Teachers Transforming Lives produced and directed by Tania Cotton and Keith Partridge, available for free on http://www.movementiwise.org


‘How you spend your days, is how you spend your life’
Annie Dillard


Read Full Transcript



Tania Cotton
Welcome to The LifeWise Show, where we explore the things in life that can help you feel truly alive. Last episode we talked to Jonathan Cave about redefining success, and how we can transform the word ‘CEO’ – ‘chief executive officer’ – into ‘chief empowerment officer’.

Today I have the great honour of talking to Dorinda Phillips, who I believe is a chief empowerment officer. Dorinda was the training programme leader for a core function at Procter & Gamble for 20 years, until she made the courageous and life-changing decision to leave her challenging and rewarding job and begin a new phase of her life, focusing on helping people live the life they want to lead, and the world they want to live in.

I met Dorinda during that difficult decision-making time when she came to see me as a patient. She was referred to me at the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Geneva, with back pain. It very quickly became obvious that we shared a passion for understanding how people learn and how we can help people adopt life skills that can serve them in life, for life.

Welcome, Dorinda. It feels really special to be able to speak with you today, because since that first meeting – when was it, 10 years ago?

Dorinda Phillips
Thank you, Tania. It’s lovely to be here. Probably my guess is it was even longer – 12, 14, maybe even 15. (Laughter)

Tania Cotton: Time flies when you’re having fun.

Dorinda Phillips
It certainly does.

Tania Cotton
We have met up for some seriously interesting walk-and-talk sessions out in nature, discussing how we can apply the science and the art of helping ourselves and others lead healthy, happy, fulfilling lives.

Dorinda Phillips
Absolutely, (Laughter) and there’s still an awful lot we can all still learn.

Tania Cotton
When was it when you started in your corporate life, where you did have a very rewarding and fulfilling job, to think, “Actually, there’s something more I need in my life, and there’s a way I need my life to evolve”? When did that questioning come, and what…? How did you make the decisions to move on?

Dorinda Phillips
I worked for 20 years in the corporate world, and I will always believe that I was incredibly lucky. It taught me a lot. It gave me a lot of experiences I would never have had. Still, actually, throughout a lot of that time there was, from time to time, the question: “What do I really want to do with my life?” and how, to a certain extent, this feeling of wanting to contribute, but then it would go away again a few years, and at some point it would come back again.

I think for me it was probably about… Throughout that whole time, as well, it had been hard for me to get, probably, the right work-life balance. If I end up being passionate about something, I really end up doing a lot of hours, and I’d felt throughout all of that time that I was missing out on life, in some ways. (Laughter) There was a lot that I wasn’t managing to do or see, and so I’d been struggling with this or really thinking about this idea of work-life balance.

Then at one point I had a health scare and I remember saying to myself, “Okay, right, this time it’s my health. This time I really am going to get the work-life balance under control,” and so for the first couple of months I did. Then, before I knew, three or four months later, it was right back where it had been before. That was the moment where I, kind of, said, “Okay, I need help. I don’t know how to do this. I’m taking myself off on holiday to Corsica for 10 days, and I’m taking a book with me – from a life coach, actually. It was called ‘Take Time for Your Life’, and that, I think, was a big turning point for me.

Tania Cotton
Why was that book…? Who was that the book by, ‘Take Time for Your Life’?

Dorinda Phillips
The book was by a lady, a US life coach called Cheryl Richardson, and it basically helped me realise that this was something that I needed to learn. Yes, the environment I was in wasn’t helping, but in the end there was no point me leaving and going somewhere else, because it was just going to be the same thing. It was me, in the end, that had to learn: “How do I get that balance? How do I get my life back under my control?” So, basically, I sat there in Corsica. It was absolutely beautiful. I had this little chalet somewhere by the beach, and every morning I read a chapter. Then I went and sat on the beach and did the exercises I was supposed to be doing.

It was a massive turning point. I think I’d come into that holiday, yes, I took the book with me, but, to be honest, I wasn’t that convinced that this is actually going to really help me figure out: “What do I want to do and how am I going to do it?” But it was just sitting there, doing the exercises, realising one of the big ‘ahas’ that literally I didn’t know how to do it. I hadn’t really asked for help up until that point.

She had a very clear process and a method that she just took you through, and, by going through, doing the exercises, it just led to a lot of ‘ahas’ and a lot of very concrete, practical tips on: “What can I do that is going to make this a lot better for me?” So, I decided that I would spend the next six months practising this, and getting a lot, and learning how to do it. It made a massive difference.

Tania Cotton
So, you went back, it made a massive difference, yet I believe there was another turning point when you took yourself not to the sea this time but up into the mountains, which shows the impact that actually nature has had on your decision-making processes?

Dorinda Phillips
Yes, that came about six months later when the company was doing some more restructuring. My role in its current form was going to go, was going to change, and so the question was: did I want to do something else? I looked at that and thought, “This might be the time.” I’d been saying for a long time I actually wanted to go and make a… Give my vision of learning a go, make a bigger contribution in the world. ”Maybe this is the time to do it,” but I was still very, very unsure and so I went up to the mountains with friends. They went skiing. I went on a snow walk – snowshoe walk.

I remember at the beginning of it really with thoughts in my head of, “Oh, my gosh, I’m never going to have the courage to do this. No, I’m not going to be able to do it.” I just remember my mind, sort of, saying, “Okay, so if you were just to think about if you did, and you took a year out and you [could 0:07:22], what would you do in that year out?” So, then I just had a lovely, lovely hour thinking about: “I would go and spent some months in New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to travel to New Zealand and Australia. I’d spend lots of time with my little nephews. I’d learn Spanish,” etc., etc. I had such a good time thinking about all the things that I could do. (Laughter)

I actually think I probably, somewhere deep down, almost made that decision, but it didn’t feel like that in my more logical, conscious mind. So, actually the next morning we all had lovely talks in the evening and I was still agonising over, “What do I want to do? Shall I leave? Should I not?” Then the next morning I woke up very early. My friends were still sleeping and so that was the moment, actually, throughout this whole process of trying to get my life back more under my control. I’d also been working a lot on what I used to call these more ‘right-brain skills’: the creativity, the emotion, the beauty, the joy, that type of thing.

Throughout that journey, I’d started – just started – my very first writing poetry, which I never, ever thought I would be able to do. I, kind of, realised that sometimes, when I don’t know what I want to do, if I can just sit down, and almost let the words come out as a poem and then read that poem back, it’s often pretty clear what I want to do. So, that morning I saw the sun was just rising over the mountains and I thought, “Do you know what? I’m just going to sit here and try and write a poem, see if that will help me figure out: what do I want to do?” Actually, that poem, which I called ‘New Beginnings’, I remember it all came out, and then I sat down, and I read it back to myself and thought, “That’s pretty clear, isn’t it, in terms of what I really want to do?”

Tania Cotton: Would you, Dorinda, share that poem with us?

Dorinda Phillips
Yes, I’d be happy to share that poem. Really, I look at that one as one of the ones that was a real turning point. It made a big difference in my life, so here is what I wrote, ‘New Beginnings’: ‘The sun rising over the mountains, a promise of a brand-new day, rich with hope and excitement, holding the fears at bay. So many questions on my mind: is it time to make a change, embrace the unknown future, give hopes and dreams full range? So many choices out there, opportunity at every turn; great discoveries to be made, important lessons to be learned. So many people to be met, amazing places to be seen, a world of feelings to be felt, so much wisdom to be gleaned. But it’s not all easy sailing, so many challenges to overcome, at times a sinking feeling, wondering what I’ve done. New obstacles to be hurdled, so many dangers to be faced; resolve and passion put to test, and certainty to be embraced. But, oh, the pride when it’s done, when great things have been achieved; so thankful I made the leap, found courage in time of need. The sun setting over the mountains; tomorrow brings another day. Now I hold my head up high, knowing I lived my life my way.’

Tania Cotton
That’s so beautiful and so touching. Thank you for sharing that with us, because I know that really comes from the heart. I believe that will touch many, many people very deeply.

Dorinda Phillips
Thank you. I know for me it was… I just still remember just staring at that poem, with the realisation of: “You do know what you want to do, and you have to find a way to build the courage to do this.” At that point that I will always regret it if I don’t, it’s really clear what I want to leave. I want to go and find a way to give my vision of learning a go and to make a bigger contribution.

Tania Cotton
Yes. ‘Courage’ is a really big word that I think we will come to – the courage to do things differently. I certainly see that when I work with patients, for example, that often, to move from unhealthy habits to healthy habits, it takes an enormous amount of courage. It’s a combination of letting go and in that way we are able to move on. It’s hard because our identity and experiences are very wrapped up in this safe place.

Dorinda Phillips
Absolutely. Certainly for me, it’s been what I’d known for 20 years. I think in some ways a lot of how we or society is defining success, you have a job; you’re earning good money. Really, the question was: “What if I’m not? What if I don’t have that job? What if I’m not earning that money? What if I fail? What if?” – all of those questions that for many, many years, along with the, “I don’t really know what I want to do,” made it very, very hard for me to build up that courage and to say, “Yes, I’m ready. I’m ready to take the leap, to give it a go.”

Tania Cotton
Yes, a very, very brave decision. We’ll talk about – more about – how we define success, as we move further along your incredible journey. It became very clear when you read this poem: “I know inside what I want to do,” and there were three words that at that time had real significance to you: ‘beauty’, ‘joy’, and ‘meaning’. Please, talk to us a little bit about where these words come from and what they meant to you.

Dorinda Phillips
Yes. I, like I said, 20 years in the corporate world, in a very left-brain environment, everything very rational, very logical, very analytical, and that has many strengths, but for a long time I’d just been feeling: “There’s something missing. There’s something missing.” At the time, I was almost going, “There’s another side of me. It just feels like it’s been pushed down for so long.”

The best I could describe it at the time was this feeling of just the yearning for beauty, joy, and meaning – the beauty of the outside world. I felt I lived in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and I never got time to see it. Just the beauty of and the joy in just having time for relationships and people, and just being able to… Not constantly [be 0:14:06] thinking about the next thing you have to do and the next, you know, all these things [that] need to be organised, and planned, and just all laid out.

For me, the joy also in the depth of human relationships, and again just having that time to let the emotions come through. I felt that, when you’re constantly living in this world of having so much more to do than you can possibly do, and planning and organising, that just being able to feel. I just felt I wasn’t really even able to feel anymore and so [it was 0:14:39] just that yearning for joy, just being able to have the space, and the peace of mind, and being able to get back in touch with that other side.

Then ‘meaning’: I will come to that a little bit later, I am sure, but just this feeling of I would read, see the big picture, what’s happening in the world. The world is facing some really big challenges, and just feeling, “I want to contribute. I want to make… I want to do something but [what’s 0:15:07] that feeling of meaning?” I just felt that was missing in my life, and I wanted to get back in touch with it.

Tania Cotton
Yes, I think that’s important for so many of us. We, kind of, know inside, and often we block it out because it’s moving us out of our comfort zone. So, I’m going to start to move towards courage and really looking at that more deeply.

Dorinda Phillips
Can I just say, actually, there was another element of that as I’m [thinking 0:15:37], as I’m remembering the joy [in] the human relationships, that for me was really powerful? I just felt that, “If I continue working the way I’m working, I have little nephews that I’m never going to see growing up. I have ageing parents that I’m not going to be able to spend the last years of their lives with.” I can see it’s touching me again now. I just had so many dreams of what I wanted to do, and I felt, “If I keep working like this, I’m not going to be able to do it. If I wait until it’s time to retire, then the children will have grown up, the ageing parents or the ageing relatives will no longer be here. Who knows, I may not have the energy to go and do these dreams, these things that I wanted to do.”

So, for me there was just such a deep yearning of, “I need to do this now. I can’t wait another 20 years until, or 15 years until I retire.” So, I think this ‘beauty’, ‘joy’, and ‘meaning’ were words that normally would not have been talked about in the corporate world and so it was just something for me. It was like that shining light. Every time I said it, it made me feel better. Every time I said it, it also created more of that year earning for, “I just want more of this in my life,” and so I think there was that human connections element of it, as well, that was just missing.

Tania Cotton
I think what’s so wonderful about what you’re saying is that you really began listening to yourself. This is something – the listening is something – we will come onto in future episodes, about how important it is to really listen to ourselves. [We just, with 0:17:26] this bombardment of information we have around us, sometimes we forget just to stop and really listen to those feelings. What are they actually trying to tell us?

Dorinda Phillips: Absolutely.

Tania Cotton
How people learn, and learning how to learn, is really important. Can you talk to us about that?

Dorinda Phillips
Yes, I guess I observed fairly early in life that I was lucky enough to have the type of mind that could remember things and so I was lucky enough to actually… I still had to work for it, but I could get through school with pretty good grades and yet I could see there were others around me – my family or good friends – that had a much, much tougher time at school and really suffered because of it; suffered with confidence, suffered.

The more I watched and the more I observed that, the more it seemed to me that the school system was only catering to one type of way that people learn. If you were lucky enough to actually have that type of way, then it was okay, but if your mind didn’t work like that and that’s not how you learnt, then actually you came through that system, often, feeling pretty scarred.

So, even from an early age, I actually… I loved, if somebody was getting stuck on something, if somebody didn’t understand something, I loved seeing if I could just find a really simple way to explain it that was, perhaps, a little bit clearer or was a different way of explaining it than what had been said by the teacher at the time. I guess I saw fairly early that that often helped people: just trying to get it down to the simple, core, basic of what they’re actually saying and how this works. Yes, I enjoyed doing that from a fairly young age. (Laughter)

Tania Cotton
Really learning how to learn, then, you identified as being a life skill.

Dorinda Phillips
I did, but it took, for me… I didn’t at that point in time. I think where it came for me was one of the things I personally struggled with through school – certainly through my teenage years and early 20s – was very much in the area of confidence and being able to speak up in public or speak up in a group. I felt that there was a lot of pain and suffering in that because I often would feel very inadequate, or I would just think, “Please, can the ground just open up and swallow me? Please, don’t let me have to say something.”

At some point a little bit later in my… It was more, perhaps, mid-20s, actually a relationship that I thought would be for life broke up, which was very traumatic for me at the time. I thought a lot of that had got to do with my confidence and so that was a time when – actually, I remember when it broke up – (Laughter) I don’t think I’d ever felt that type of pain. I think I just cried for two weeks, literally.

I remember another turning point, I remember at some point sitting on the sofa in my basement flat in Germany, a fairly damp basement flat, sitting on a psychedelic-coloured sofa and, kind of, going, “Okay, right, Dorinda, you cannot continue like this. You have got to make a choice. You can either go back to England, where friends, and family, and people who care about you, or you can stay here.” As said, I was in Germany at the time. “You can stay here and you can change what it is you don’t like about yourself.”

I was a little bit in judgmental mode at that point, but for me that was my confidence. I, kind of, sat there and thought, “Right, I’m staying here and I am going to change this whole area of confidence.” So, at the time, I jumped up, looked around my flat. I didn’t have a book on confidence, but the only one I had that was something close to it was a book called ‘Assertiveness at Work’. I was incredibly lucky because it was an incredibly good book. Over the next few weeks, months, I literally followed what they were talking about, and for me it was just a massive ‘aha’ because the ‘aha’ was: “Oh, my gosh, you can learn this stuff. You can learn how to be confident.”

I think, without ever realising it, in my mind I had thought, “You either have confidence or you don’t. You’re either confident or you’re not,” but I didn’t realise you could learn it. For me, that just completely unleashed my love of learning, because I saw how my confidence grew over the coming months and years, and how much happier I felt because of that. So, I was very much in that stage of: “Oh, my gosh, we need to be teaching people the skills that are really going to make the biggest difference in their lives.”

That was the start of my love of learning and love of training, and I was lucky enough to be in a company that supported me in that. So, over the years I created our European training programmes for the function I worked in. Then I went on at some point and created our global training programmes, but I could bring in some of these – and we’re not just teaching the standard kind of stuff, but we’re also… The leadership, the technical skills, all of those things are incredibly important and you need them, but can we, please, also teach these other skills, which in the end is going to make the biggest difference in terms of: “Are you happy in life? Are you performing well in life? Are you successful in life?” That, for me, was the start through my own ‘aha’, and being lucky enough to be in an environment where I could help others learn some of those skills.

Tania Cotton
“Are you successful in life?” (Laughter) How you do you measure success? That’s an interesting question. Maybe touch on that.

Dorinda Phillips
Yes, I would say that’s changed. My definition of success has changed a lot over the years. I think, personally, today, every one of us has to figure out for ourselves: what is success? I think society has an image of success, which is usually: “Have you got a good job? Are you earning a lot of money?” But I would say that, from what I’ve seen, I’m not saying that isn’t important, but it’s not necessarily going to make you happy.

I think today… When I was going through my whole, “What do I want to do? Do I dare leave?” nothing is ever guaranteed, but probably, if I had stayed, there would have been much more financial security. “Do I dare to leave behind that type of financial security?” especially being on my own. I didn’t have anybody else who was providing for me, and a lot of thinking about, “What is success? What does that actually…? What does that mean?”

At that time, I read a quote that said something like, ‘How I spend my days is how I live my life.’ I remember thinking, “Do I like how I’m spending my days, and is that how I want to live my life?” At the time, I was thinking, “No, I don’t like how I’m spending my days, and that isn’t how I… That’s not how I want to live my life.” I think that for me one of the big ‘ahas’, and I don’t know if you want to talk about that now, but one of the big ‘ahas’ for me was when I read the ‘Mindset’ book, because that shifted how I defined success – first of all how I defined failure, and then, therefore, how I defined success. That made a massive difference for me, going forward.

Tania Cotton
Yes. Let’s come back to the ‘Mindset’, because it’s a really important point that I think we need to discuss in a little bit of detail. I just want to bring us back to the life skills. We’ve been looking at the life skills, and been learning how to learn, and that you can build confidence, and actually what it triggered in my mind was another walk and talk we had. In fact, we happened to be in San Francisco together and we met with someone who says, “I don’t like sport” – almost apologetically because she knew what I did as a movement analyst and a physiotherapist, but she was clearly active.

She was out there walking her dogs, and we joined her to walk her dogs. We were having these interesting discussions, as we did, and I was talking about balance. She says, “I don’t have good balance,” and I said, “No, but you can learn it.” We started watching the way each other moved and she said, “But I thought balance was like brown eyes: you either have it or you don’t.” (Laughter) Do you remember that?

Dorinda Phillips
Uh-huh, and I would actually say, I think, probably most people in the world, without actually subcon… Without consciously realising it, also have that type of a belief, like I had about confidence: you either have it or you don’t. You think, “No. Actually, no, everything is a question of learning. You can learn anything you like.”

Tania Cotton
That’s really the key in this conversation we’re having right now: that there are many skills that people think, “I’m not good at that,” but there are so many things we can learn – neuroplasticity. The brain – and the body – has an amazing ability to reform itself, depending upon the positive stresses we put upon it, the positive challenges and the learning opportunities we put on it. What life skills – other life skills – do you think are important for us to learn that often get neglected?

Dorinda Phillips
I think there are a lot. I remember many, many, many years ago, I started keeping a list of my top 10 skills that I thought we ought to be teaching in school and we’re not – or release we weren’t at the time. Maybe now we are doing a little bit more in places, but not enough. For me, one of the most important is all around communication and relationship skills. It’s literally learning: how do we listen to, how do we respect our own – but also others’ – thoughts, emotions, needs? How do we communicate those in a way that leads to fulfilling relationships, in a way that leads to…? Whether those are personal relationships, whether those are effective relationships at work, but just the fact that none of us are taught how to manage our emotions. None of us are taught how to express our emotions. We’re not taught how to figure out how we get to win-win situations: “What are the needs of the other? What are my needs?” and that it’s okay to talk about those and to get to it in a way that everybody is just… It’s literally win-win for everybody.

We spend – we waste – so much of our time and energy on avoiding these conversations or having difficult relationships with people, because we haven’t been taught how to do it. For me, again, it was one of those: I know I’m a big fan of the ‘Nonviolent Communication’ book by Marshall Rosenberg, and the whole method. For me, later in life when I read that, I was in tears. I was literally in tears, going, “Oh, my gosh. If my parents had been taught how to do that when they were young, they would have avoided so many years of unhappiness, and pain and suffering.” For me that was number one, up there with confidence, self-esteem: “You can learn how to do this. How do we learn?” For me, it’s in those areas [are 0:29:35] my top life skills I think we should be teaching everybody.

Tania Cotton
Being the master of our emotions is going to be the subject of our next podcast.

Dorinda Phillips: Wonderful.

Tania Cotton
I’m really looking forward to sharing that with you, with Boris Cyrulnik and Mark Milton. Going back to when I first met you as a patient, I think this was also one of those moments when you had an ‘aha’ moment, as you call them, of: “Why was I not taught more about fundamental movement skills, and how to keep my body resistant to pain, injury, and disease?” Can you, please, share your movement-wise [journey with us 0:30:11]? (Laughter)

Dorinda Phillips
Yes. Like many, many other people in the corporate world, I, for a couple of years, had been experiencing back pain – way too many hours sitting in front of the computer. I had tried to go and see a couple of different people, to see if there was anything they could do to help me not have that back pain, and it hadn’t really worked, to be honest.
At some point, I ended up in the offices – or in the surgery – of a back specialist, and so he took an x-ray, did an MRI scan.

I still remember that moment when he’s looking at the MRI scan, saying, “You have a perfect back.” I remember thinking, “If it’s so perfect, why is it hurting so much?” In fact, I think I actually said that to him and he said, “I don’t actually know. I’m going to send you to see Tania.” So, I thought, “Okay, great,” so off I went to see you. I still remember, literally you looked at me for about 60 seconds – maybe it was 90 – and said, “I can tell you why your back is hurting.” I went, “Really?”

That was, once you’d explained to me that actually I have this habit of, when I sit down, I, kind of, tip my pelvis back and so, as soon as I tip my pelvis back, what happens is my spine bends right in the middle – literally. That’s exactly where it was hurting. So, as soon as I tip my pelvis forward, or at least get it level, my back straightens up and then all of a sudden I don’t have that pain in my back.

I remember looking at you and going, “Really? It’s as simple as that and I have spent two years talking to different physiotherapists, chiropractors, I don’t know who, and none of them could tell me that?” So, then that was when we started this conversation of where I was going, “But isn’t that the foundation of what anybody would be…? We ought to be learning when it comes to how do you need to hold your body so that you don’t have physical pain? How do you need to move so that you don’t have physical pain? Why isn’t this taught as the foundation of every physiotherapy or goodness knows what course?”

That’s, I think, how a lot of the conversations started. Of course, since then you and I have been on many walks together where you’ve been able to look at people and just see that “Oh, my gosh, if they keep doing that, they’re going to have pain in their shoulder. They’re going to have pain in their hip. They’re going to do whatever.” I’m looking, going, “Why aren’t we teaching people this?” It’s actually once you realise it’s something fairly… It’s fairly easy to understand. It’s a little bit harder to actually then undo those old habits and start the new ones, but it’s absolutely possible. You can learn how to do this.

Tania Cotton
So much, and I really… Thank you for that, because I hope that’s a message of hope for everyone because, sometimes, really small changes in our posture and movement habits can have a huge impact – not only on our lives but the lives on those around us, because no pain is just physical. There are huge emotional consequences of that pain. It’s a dualistic way of trying to separate them, and we need to realise that we are also an embodiment of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There are physical drivers, little habits we do that don’t help us, and there are emotional drivers also.

Dorinda Phillips: Absolutely.

Tania Cotton
Let’s come back to the Mindset question, because our attitude to learning really counts.

You introduced me to Professor Carol Dweck’s work by asking me a couple of questions. Do you remember what they were? In fact, during our physiotherapy and movement sessions, we realised, “Oh, my gosh,” that we had so much to chat about, but I said, “No, you’re here. We need to concentrate on you. Let’s meet outside the physiotherapy setting and start talking about what we’re passionate about, is helping people develop new habits and behaviours.” What were those questions?

Dorinda Phillips
Yes, I had just read a book called ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, and I literally would say this is probably the single biggest mindset shift – mindset shift for me – in my whole life.

For me, there was one experiment that they’d done that summed that up for me. It was an experiment where they’d taken hundreds of students and they’d split them into two groups. They gave them 10 questions from a non-verbal IQ test, and, once the students had answered the questions, they praised the first group, using words like, “Wow, you did really well. You must be smart at this. You have a real ability for this. Well done,” and then the second group, using words like, “Wow, you did really well. You must have worked very hard at this. You put in a lot of effort. Well done.”

So, the first group they praised on ability, and the second group they praised on effort. They then gave both groups a second set of questions but actually much harder this time. So, my question to you was: “Which group did you think did better on that second group, [this 0:35:57] second set of questions – the group that was praised on ability, or the group that was praised on effort, and why?”

Tania Cotton
Yes, I’d like to give us all a moment to pause on that. (Laughter) Clearly, I now know the answer, but I remember, at the time you asked me, that was very thought-provoking. Yes, so tell us.

Dorinda Phillips
What actually happened was that the group that… The students praised on ability started to struggle. They said to themselves, “These questions are really tough. I don’t know how to answer them. Maybe I don’t have such a great ability after all,” and so they started to lose confidence in themselves. Some of them gave up, and overall they didn’t score as well, whereas the group praised on effort actually did better. They said, “Wow, these are really tough. I don’t know how to do them. I’m going to have to put in even more effort this time to make… To get the results,” and so overall they did better.

It actually didn’t stop there, because they actually gave them a third set of questions, and this time it was back on the level of the initial set of questions. What happened then? Actually, the group praised on ability did worse than they had done the first time round, and the group praised on effort did a lot better.

I remember I was just absolutely amazed. I was sitting there with my mouth wide open because actually I was one of the people who said, “I think the group praised on ability will do better,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh.” If we’re praising people on ability, and smart, and it’s actually leading to them losing confidence and doing worse than they would have done beforehand, this is not the effect we’re going for. This is not why we’re doing it. So, for me it was an absolute mind opener when she then explained her work around two mindsets that we could have, and why having one mindset could lead us… How we could almost even put people into certain mindsets, and the difference it could have.

Tania Cotton
It was really an important moment for me because I see everybody as being a teacher at some time in their life, and just how often we’re so unaware about how we teach. The feedback we give, whether we’re a parent, or a coach, or a healthcare professional, can really impact how that person then moves forwards. It’s just foundational.

Dorinda Phillips
Absolutely, and so for me, what I took away, she talks about two types of mindset, and one of them being what she calls the ‘fixed’ mindset. That’s pretty much a belief that intelligence and ability is, kind of, pretty much fixed. Yes, we’re all a little bit different, but there’s not an awful lot you can do about it – almost like you’re born with it. But what that leads to, if you believe that, is that leads to behaviour of constantly trying to prove yourself, and trying to look good, and often getting very upset if you feel that anybody’s criticising or anybody is all of this stuff.

The other is a growth mindset, which is the belief that, yes, we’re all a little bit different, but actually you can learn and basically believe that intelligence and ability can be grown, and you can learn that throughout your life. So, that leads to behaviour of constantly trying to learn and become better. If you fail, then it’s not as serious, because, “Fine, okay, what can I learn from that? Let me move on,” whereas, if you fail and you’re in a fixed mindset, then, “Oh, my gosh, you’re a failure, and that says something about you, personally.”

So, for me, I just thought, “Oh, my gosh, this just explains so much of my own behaviour, so much of my father’s behaviour throughout life,” just from that belief of, “It’s, kind of, fixed,” without realising. This is subconscious. I didn’t know I was thinking that. I didn’t know why I was getting upset when people had a different opinion, or I felt criticised, or why I was afraid to go and take a risk, because I might fail. I had no idea, but for me, reading that, I thought, “That just explains so much of my own behaviour, of others’ behaviour.”

That was a turning point for me. I was so… I felt like someone had lifted a massive weight off my shoulders, and literally I was so enthusiastic I talked to absolutely everybody. The more people I talked to, it explained a lot of behaviour in the company I was working for. Literally, the more I talked to, the more people said, “You have to come and give us a talk on this. You have to [go, you’re going to 0:40:39] have to create some training on it,” and so in the end I did end up creating a little bit of training around that. We did it and people were… There were a lot of people who had that same ‘aha’ that I did with, “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh, I didn’t realise.” So, it was a big, big mindset shift for me, but then I still had to work at it because there were some ingrained habits that weren’t just going to disappear overnight, (Laughter).

Tania Cotton
Is there a particular example you’d like to share with us? (Laughter) I think personal journeys are very powerful. I know it takes a lot of courage to share our personal moments.

Dorinda Phillips
I’m more than happy to share that. For me, even though I’d always… I’m a huge believer in feedback, and I would give courses on feedback because I’m a big believer in learning. I still would have to say, when people were giving me feedback, for the first… At that moment in time, I was often gritting my teeth and going, “I know this is going to help me, but it doesn’t feel like help at this moment. It feels like criticism.” Usually, a couple of days later I’d be grateful, but it wasn’t always grateful in that moment.” I thought, “You know what? This is the fixed mindset. This is the fact that, if someone’s saying, ‘You know what? That’s not too good,’ or, ‘That could be better’, or whatever, I’m taking that as some type of statement about my ability, rather than actually looking at it and go, ‘Ooh, what a great opportunity to learn.’”

I thought about it and I thought… I’d read a huge amount of books on neuroscience, and how the brain works and whatever, and, kind of, realised that part of the issue here is that my brain has just really got into the habit of: it hears the word ‘feedback’ and immediately goes to ‘criticism’ in a split second, in a millisecond, before I can consciously even stop it. So, I thought, “Right, I need to find a way that my mind goes to, instead of hearing ‘feedback’ and going straight to ‘criticism’, it needs to… I want it to hear ‘feedback’ and go straight to ‘help’ so that then it feels good about it.”

I thought, “How can I make it feel like this is help?” and so I thought, “Right, so one thing I can do from the very beginning is I can actually go ask for it rather than just waiting until somebody gives me some, because at least in that way I feel I’m a bit more in control. Then I can actually direct it and so that I can say something like…” In the past, if I’d written something and it was too long, if I would say, “Hey, I’ve written this, what do you think?” and they would say, “It’s too long,” then it felt like criticism, but if I would say, “Hey, I think I’ve got a great idea here. I’ve written something, but I don’t quite know how to express it yet. It’s probably still a little long. Can you help me express it more powerfully and more succinctly?” then anything they said actually felt like help if they said, “You know what? Maybe you could shorten this a bit,” or, “I actually think the main point here is this.”

So, the more that I directed it and the more I could say which eased my ego a little bit at the beginning to go, “I think I’ve got a great idea here, but could you help me express it more powerfully?” and I actually realised: “This is help.” There are a lot of people, all of the statements they’re giving, all of the input they’re giving me – most of it – actually felt like help. After a few months of doing this, it almost felt like it rewired the brain into, when I heard ‘feedback’, it was starting to go, “This is going to help,” rather than ‘feedback’, ‘criticism’, but I almost had to understand a little bit what was happening, and find a way to make it feel like help, and actually be help, and not get upset about: “Oh.” I was still very much working on my learning mindset of: “What a wonderful opportunity. This is really… (Laughter) This is going to help me learn.”

It made a big difference. It made a big difference for me. There was one other area I applied it to, which we don’t have to go into detail, but that was the piece of I grew up in an environment where, if anybody had a different opinion, my father used to get very upset and very… Could get quite aggressive. Again it was the same thing. It was the same thing and I’d learnt that habit. I was doing pretty much the same thing. I was probably controlling it better, but I did not feel: “This is wonderful if someone has a different opinion.”

What I realised was, “But I want to feel this. Actually, this is going to enable us to get to something a lot better,” and so I applied the same type of strategies in that area and they worked really well for me. It took some time. It took me a good few months to get to that, but I did get to the point, when somebody had a different opinion: “How wonderful. This is going to get us to a much better solution.” It’s just rewiring the brain.

I think for me what was the big ‘aha’ was I didn’t even… I didn’t know how to start doing it, because I didn’t know what the problem was. Reading the ‘Mindset’ book just helped me realise: “Oh, my gosh. This is explaining a lot of it for me,” and so gave me that starting point to: “How can I shift myself from being often in a fixed mindset to being a lot more often in a growth mindset?” What she called ‘growth mindset’, these days I tend to call ‘learning mindset’, but yes. From then on, a lot of my coaching I did later on in life, it’s one of the absolute core books that I recommend for all of the people that I work with, because so many of us suffer from it. We’re not taught – we’re literally just not taught – and yet the knowledge and the experience is out there.

What I find is the whole judgement, it’s the… When we’re in a fixed mindset, literally we’re judging ourselves and we’re judging others. All of that unnecessary pain and suffering that comes from judging ourselves and judging others doesn’t have to be like that; actually that we can learn how to do that differently, and it takes away a lot of that pain, a lot of that emotional pain. For me, that was another kind of thing in: “We have got to be teaching some of these critical life skills that just make all the difference to us in life.”

Tania Cotton
It’s something I’ve learnt from you, Dorinda. This whole journey you’ve been on in all these years we’ve known each other – emotional intelligence – this mindset didn’t just help you improve your relationships at work and understand them, but the relationships within your family and with those around you, and really that critical relationship with your father, making peace with and understanding more where he was coming from.

Dorinda Phillips: Yes.

Tania Cotton: Having more compassion for the way he was?

Dorinda Phillips
Yes, a lot more compassion. I could observe him. I could see that he was unlucky enough to have… Be able to read those books at a point in time where it would have made a difference or, maybe, he would never have… They hadn’t even been written at that point. I saw literally a huge amount of pain – not just for him but for others around – in him not being… Just not knowing how to do that differently.

That led to a lot of compassion. It led to understanding and some compassion. I think the later piece for me that made the biggest, biggest difference around emotions was then actually being lucky enough, once I left P&G, to go through the coaching course and to learn how to become a coach, but the very first part of what they do is actually you learn how to be coached.

So, for me, just learning how to be able to let… To express a lot of those… To get back in touch with those emotions, express a lot of those painful emotions, and literally be able to release them, was what enabled… Was just an unbelievable step forward for me in my own personal development and made such a huge difference with being able to get to be with my father in a way that I could just not have done – I wasn’t able to – throughout most of my life, until I got to that point. So, for me, again: emotions. If we would just teach people how to be able to be with emotions, express emotions, listen to other people’s emotions, it’s just unbelievably enriching in life and relationships.

Tania Cotton
It’s, yes, essential. So, failure as part of success, (Laughter) there are two ways we can feel failure: one as a threat, and another one as an opportunity.

Dorinda Phillips: Yes.

Tania Cotton
I love a quote by Michael Jordan, the basketball player. He said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost nearly 300 games; 26 times I’ve been trusted to take a winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed.”

We knew each other at a time where I really felt like a failure. I had, sort of, sidestepped from the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre. I was asked to run a project to build a health and motion centre, looking at how we could, in the education system, change the way children moved, but also marry that with people’s lifestyle habits, such as eating.

I could get funding by me putting it into Kuwait, into schools in Kuwait. I realised down the line that I was losing my life and that, living in Kuwait and what that entailed as a woman, I wasn’t able to express myself any more. I had to walk away from it.

After two years of building this project up to a point when there were executive summaries and mandates, and my heart and soul was in it – and you helped me through that – I really felt like a failure and that where was I going to go from here? It’s at that moment I remember you gave me a poem. It’s a poem that gave me courage, and I still have it by my bedside, in a little book. Dorinda, I’d love you to share that with us.

Dorinda Phillips
Absolutely. This was… It was a poem I wrote for myself. As I said, when I was going through my journey of trying to figure out what I wanted to do and build up my own courage to take that step and leave, I felt that if I… I wrote something on courage and I read it myself so many times to help me build my courage. I remember at the time thinking that, and I’m so, so happy if it helped, if it made a difference.

So, here is the poem about courage:

‘Never let your voice be silenced. Speak up for what you feel is right. Hold on dearly to your values. Let them be your guiding light. Never give away your power, or lose yourself within a crowd. Trust your thoughts and intuition. Stand up and live your life out loud. Never let others put you down or hold you back in any way. Delight in your magnificence. Let your soul come out to play. Never yield to intimidation. Stand tall when those around you doubt. Feel pride when you resist temptation. Let your character shine throughout. Take time your true self to discover. Explore your spirit and your soul. Rejoice in all that you uncover. Embrace each find that makes you whole. Cherish integrity as a friend, as courage to walk by your side. Nurture and grow your self-esteem. Promise yourself you’ll never hide. Paint a picture of your dreams. Look deep inside; follow your heart. Realise you only have one life. Know it’s never too soon to start. Take your strengths and your passion. Point them towards a cause that’s worth. Have the courage of your convictions. Go make a difference on this earth. Never let your voice be silenced. Speak up for what you feel is right, and, when one day your time is over, you’ll go with peace into the night.’

Tania Cotton: It’s so beautiful.

Dorinda Phillips
Thank you. I must have recited that to myself so many times when I was trying to build up the courage to actually leave. (Laughter) I found these poems helped me. It was all part of my journey of getting back in touch with my emotions, what I called my ‘right brain’. I think neuroscience has probably moved away from calling it ‘right brain’, but for me it was the right brain and it just, when I would recite it to myself, it just put me in a different state of mind and it, sort of… Yes, and so I’m very, very happy that it made a difference.

Actually, interestingly enough, I was just saying, I was reading it again the other day and this whole verse around, ‘Take your strengths and your passion; point them towards a cause that’s worth,’ at the time when I wrote it, I hadn’t done that – not really. So, now, actually, almost 10 years later, I was looking back, going, “Actually, you know what? Now I’ve done that,” and so that was a lovely kind of feeling that came with it, as well. We all need courage, and I still need a lot more courage. We all need courage. It’s ongoing, but yes.

Tania Cotton
I think it’s Sir Winston Churchill who said that success is not… It’s nothing to do with never falling down. We will fall down many times, but it’s getting up again with enthusiasm that counts. That’s tough, and that does take courage.

Dorinda Phillips
It does, and I think also for me that one of the things I love so much about the ‘Mindset’ book, for a long time I was saying, “You know what? I’m not even sure we do fail. I think it doesn’t work out the way we want it to do, and we learn.” In the end I decided: “Okay, the world still wants to keep calling it ‘fail’, so we can use the word ‘fail’.” (Laughter) But for me I think that was one of the biggest things that it actually did, was that it helped me completely redefine failure. It literally took away my fear of failing at that point when I was trying to leave, when the question in my mind was: “What if I fail?”

I think what it helped me realise was that, if they were redefining, “When do you feel smart?” you’d had this question, “When do you feel smart?” and, if you’re in a fixed mindset, you feel smart if you come top of the class, or you’re getting an ‘A’ or something like that. That, pretty much, was how I’d felt smart in the past, (Laughter) but actually, for others in the growth mindset, they feel smart when they’re actually learning something –when they’re learning something new that they didn’t know before.

I thought, “You know what? That’s a different definition of, ‘When do you feel smart?’” and so it helped me think about: “So, how do we define success, and then how do we define failure?” It, kind of, got me to the point of: “So, if failing, then, would be something like not learning or not getting better, then maybe it would also be not having the courage to pursue what I really wanted to do, and actually, if I would already… If I did have the courage and I would make that step, then I’d already succeeded because actually… ” So, there was almost nothing I could do to fail.

For me, that just took away a lot of that fear of, “What’s going to happen afterwards?”

Tania Cotton
Something you’ve really highlighted to me when we talk about how we build training courses that really help people go through a learning experience, and not just gain new knowledge and then it’s forgotten in a month, is practice. [Tony Els 0:56:54], the golfer, said, “The more I practise, the luckier I get,” yet, of course, it’s the quality of practice that counts, because practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

There’s a world champion triathlete coach I know, Fiona Ford, who discourages her athletes from doing what she calls ‘junk training’: training that makes you more tired and vulnerable to injury, rather than fitter and more skilful. Do you think there is a lesson to be learnt here by many of those working in the corporate world? In the athletic world, the most important part of training is known by many to be rest and recovery. (Laughter)

Dorinda Phillips
Yes, I’m pretty sure there is a lesson to be learnt. I think a lot of… It’s actually fascinating. When you look at how you would teach people certain sports or more physical things, I think often we are a lot more… Intuitively, we realise that of course you need to practise it, or of course you need to rest and recover. Yet, once you get into the corporate world, we don’t look at the same… We don’t look at it in the same way to say, “If you’re trying to teach somebody leadership or you’re trying to teach them collaboration, of course you’d have to practise,” but it doesn’t actually happen. Most of the time, people stand up and talk to them for hours on end and you think, “Okay, you’re not going to learn leadership like that.”

By the same token, I think we don’t recognise the importance of rest and recovery, and that it’s an incredibly important part. You can’t just make your brain work for 12 hours in a go and expect that it’s going to come up with something incredibly creative, and innovative, and ground-breaking at the end of that. It needs rest, and it needs recovery, and I think that it’s getting harder and harder, I think, in the current environment, with more and more pressure. Yes, I think we don’t always realise that it’s not just our bodies that need rest and recovery, it’s actually our minds. How do we build that in so that they can actually perform much better in the end and can be a lot happier while they’re doing it?

Tania Cotton
So much, and I think there is rest and recreation – re-creation. Part of re-creation, I believe, is play. Stuart Brown wrote a book called ‘Play’ that really highlights how, especially in the corporate world, people begin their jobs doing what they want to do, and then they get advanced into managerial roles and with more responsibility. Suddenly, the joy has disappeared and they wonder where it went. When he looked, he’s looked at it and he’s said, “Because you just let go of the very thing that was bringing you joy there.”

Dorinda Phillips
Absolutely. For me, part of my journey when I was starting this whole, “What do I want to do?” and, “Do I dare leave?” and etc., etc., actually the very, very first book I read, with my whole yearning for beauty, joy and meaning, was a book called ‘A Whole New Mind’, by Daniel Pink. It was all about what he was calling ‘right-brain skills’ at the time, and for me I thought, “This is what I need. I need – I want – to get back in touch with that other side of me and this whole right-brain creativity, emotion, play, feelings, all of this piece.”

So, I read that. I read the book, I did lots and lots of the exercises, and I [just gave 1:00:22] space for that play, the creativity, the emotions, the feelings, the senses to come out, which I’d never done before. The more and more it did, the more, one, I was a lot happier, but two, a lot better ideas I had, as well. I was amazed at how we define performance. We think, “If we just work really hard and do all the left-brain analytical, logical stuff, it will come.” No, it won’t. You need both of them working together to be able to do it.

So, for me, I still think a big part of why I was even able to do this was because I started with that book, which was all about: “Let me get back in touch with that other side.” It led to the poems. Without the poems, I wouldn’t have done it, so in the end it made a massive difference. (Laughter)

Tania Cotton
I’d like to mention the second part of the title of that book is ‘A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World’.

Dorinda Phillips: Exactly; exactly, in the future.

Tania Cotton
How much do you think self-belief plays a role in people making important behavioural and lifestyle changes, and learning to do things differently?

Dorinda Phillips
I think it plays a big… It’s a very good question, actually. I was just reflecting on that because the easy answer is to say, “It plays a huge role.” Of course, it does because, if you have self-belief, it’s going to be much easier to make that change. I was just reflecting on: can you do it if you’re still learning your self-belief? (Laughter) I actually think you can, because I think we’re all learning to believe in ourselves and to self-confidence, self-esteem.

Personally, I feel that the learning mindset makes it a lot easier to believe in yourself, because all you really have to believe in is your ability to learn, because, if you know that you can learn, then actually believe in yourself because you’re always going to, whatever it is, whatever situation you’re facing, whatever skill you’re trying to learn, you know at some point you’ll be able to learn it. So, it’s a lot easier to believe in yourself.

So, I would say it plays an important role. If, for whatever reason, it’s still an area that people are working on, I don’t think it stops you making changes. I think you just need a bit more courage to actually do it. (Laughter) So, yes, incredibly important, and yes, you can go forward and make changes. There are a lot of people who will talk and say they’ve done amazing things in the world and still they’re working on their self-belief and their self-confidence, so it’s probably a lifelong thing that we’re all working on.

I invite you to join us for part 2 of this Podcast in Episode 3 of The LifeWise Show: ‘Creating the World You want to live in’ with Dorinda Phillips. Dorinda will share personal revelations and simple practical steps that you can take to improve your health and the health of our planet and how both are inextricably linked. I look forward to meeting you there!

Meet Tania Cotton

Tania Cotton avatar

Tania Cotton is a Movement Analyst and Chartered Physiotherapist with over 25 years' experience helping people overcome pain, injury and disease to lead a happy and fulfilling life. After 12 years as a consultant for the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Geneva, Tania began making films on health and human performance to show people what is possible and to inspire them to take action.

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