Archive | Individual Growth and Development

I Love My Job and You Could Too!

No, I’m not hiring or retiring! It’s just that recently I’ve had several people contact me about getting into the field of learning and development.  They ask me what they can do to become facilitators/trainers/instructors, without going back to school full time.

When faced with this request, it makes me realize once again how much I love what I do.  I’m consistently energized by helping adults explore their own minds, skills, behaviors, and habits. I buoyed by the look on people’s faces when they’ve discovered something about themselves. And I’m humbled by the insightful questions and reflections shared among learners.  Finally, I love observing people practice new skills that will enable them to be more successful in their lives.

Being a learning and development professional gives you an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. It requires curiosity and creativeness, people and problem solving skills, flexibility and feedback to others and yourself.

So here are my 5 top recommendations for learning and developing your skills in the learning and development field


1. Join the international and local chapter of ATD 

The international ATD association provides a wealth of resources including conferences, job aids, and even program designs for the new professional.  I’ve attended the international conference twice. At my first conference, I was motivated by Heidi Grant Halvorson.

In one workshop, I met an amazing and talented colleague from Australia who has since become my friend.   Leonie- Cutts  and I bonded over a glass of wine and passionate conversation about the power of communication in workplaces and organizations across the globe. She also introduced me to her compatibility communication cards   I’ve found great value in using these tools for conversation starters and connections in my workshops, as well as finding a colleague across the planet who can share advice on challenges and strategies in our field.

Another benefit of these conferences is the opportunity to be a presenter, if selected.  I have had the opportunity to present at local, regional and the international ATD conferences. Gearing up for a presentation among your colleagues, including a group of more than 400 from around the world with my colleague Princy  Quadros Mennella , certainly motived me to learn more about my subject matter (neuroscience application in the workplace) and it sharpened my presentation skills for a large international audience.

Check out any local ATD chapters in your area. In Maine, we have an active chapter that provides wonderful networking opportunities and access to varied speakers and best practices.

2. Sign up for a professional development program at a local college or university.

Instead of an advanced degree, you can get a taste of our profession and learn valuable skills through a professional development program. For example, I offer Facilitating Effective Learning Programs  at the University of Southern Maine. This three-day program provides valuable and practice skills, lots of hands on practice and networking opportunities. You’re guaranteed to leave feeling more confident in your delivery skills. As a participant, you can learn from the content, your practice, and even observing what I do well (and not so well!)

3. Sign up for any course – observe and take notes on the instructor.

Whether you are taking a webinar or a face-to-face program, any time you sign up or are “volunteered” to take a learning program focus on not just the content, but also the design and delivery.   Keep a piece of paper near your notes that is devoted to the instructor’s design and presentation style.  Use a simple plus/delta at the top to note what you like and what could be improved. Write observable behaviors and impact.  This will help you build a list of skills that you will want to demonstrate in your programs.

4. Read.

While YouTube videos and blogs are great resources, I still enjoying curling up with a good book in our field. By taking notes while I read, I enhance my memory of important practices I want to repeat. Below are a few of my favorite classic books on the learning and development field.

Training from the Back of the Room by Sharon Bowman

The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz

Active Training by Mel Silberman

Flawless-Consulting-Guide-Getting-Expertise Used by Peter Block

(I recommend Block’s book to anyone wanting to start their own learning and development business before you speak to potential clients.)

5. Offer free programs for nonprofits and at conferences and local adult-education programs in your community.

I started Catalyst & Co.   in 1995.  While I had worked for a large health insurance company as training and development professional, my skills were not that well known in the broader community. By meeting with a few people and offering my services for free, I quickly connected to potential clients and enhanced my skills and reputation.

Connecting with nonprofits, associations, and other professional development programs can give you an opportunity to practice your skills.  If things go well, ask the group leader to write you a recommendation for your LinkedIn profile or your website.  Come early and stay late at the conference to network with attendees who might be willing to pay for your services in the future. Providing free programs benefits your emerging business and makes a valuable contribution to the learning in your community.


Words That Inspire This Month and Beyond

People, events, words, and images all inspire me. What inspires you?


In honor of black history month,

Here are a few amazing people whose words I cherish.  In addition, I often share these quotes with learners. May they inspire you beyond this month.

Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. .Maya Angelou continues to inspire

Dr. Maya Angelou (speaker, poet, author, activist)

“If you get, give.

If you learn, teach”

I’m not the only ‘teacher’ in my workshops. I often encourage learners to teach each other to reinforce the skills for themselves and give their peers a different perspective from mine. This quote also serves to remind us of the commitment to helping each other in the workplace and in life.


Booker T. Washington (educator, advisor, orator)

“I have learned that success is not to be measured so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.”

Measuring success by a position in your organization can be very limiting. Many achievements in the workplace come from individual projects, relationship making, and learning by mistakes.  So much about failing and learning from challenges indicates true success.

Cicely Tyson (actress)

“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew”

One of my favorite moments in any workshop is when someone shares an insight they are having about themselves for the first time. This honesty is so refreshing. It builds trust between participants and is the first step for an individual to make changes.

 Jackie Robinson, (first African American baseball player in the Major Leagues)

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you are wasting your life.”

This quote reminds me of this courageous man, my love of baseball, and the importance of getting in the game.  Not sitting back and wasting your precious life. It’s about finding what’s in your ‘circle of control’ and exercising that which you can say, do, and think to impact change for yourself or for others.

Also by Dr. Maya Angelou

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I frequently call on this quote to express that presentation skills are not just about giving your audience information. Memorable presentations evoke a feeling and action often achieved through personal stories. Developing Powerful Presentations


5 Strategies To Move Past Fear: Can We Practice What We Preach?

My colleague, Princy Quadros Mennella and I both are inspired by the great work of Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck Ted Talk on Growth Mindset. I even shared highlights of her work last April. Cultivating A Growth Mindset Blog

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

Princy and I are enjoying teaching others the importance of developing a growth mindset.  We’ve shared Dweck’s research and the importance of: growing our abilities, learning from mistakes, asking for feedback and seeking challenges.  It was even with a growth mindset that Princy and I  got up the nerve to apply and be selected to present “Brain Hacking: How Emotions and Neuroplasticity Can Impact Your Learning Programs” at the Association of Talent Development’s International Conference and Exposition.

Growth Mindset Meets Reality

As seasoned presenters, we knew to arrive early to the conference (the day before) and check on the logistics, room set up, etc.   While we semi-confidently walked into the Convention Center, once we opened the door to our dimly-lit, vacant room, with more than 400 empty chairs, our “growth” mindset went out the window. (And there were no windows!). The room was so big. It was HUGE!! Princy and I kept staring at the rows and rows of seats that might be filled tomorrow. We glanced at the HUGE screen where our slides would hopefully be displayed. And then we stared at the elevated stage where we would be talking to learning and development professionals from around the world. Our fears escalated as our fixed mindset took hold!

Fixed Mindset Starts Talking

With eyes wide open, and a few sounds of nervous giggles, each of us just stood there. Our individual brains were entertaining chaotic thoughts. “We can’t do this.” “What if we say something stupid?” “What if our slides don’t work?” “What if someone stands up and says, you don’t know what you’re talking about?” “I bet people won’t show up.” “I’m sure people will walk out in disgust.”   “I think I’m going to throw up.” A fixed mindset and self-doubt filled our brains.

Can We Practice What We Preach?

And then, slowly, we took hold of our thoughts. We began to realize we had the resources to get back to a growth mindset and actually practice what we preach.

So here are 5 strategies we not only recommend to you, but we employed at that conference.

5 Strategies to Move Past Fear and Encourage Your Growth Mindset 

1. Meet Brene Brown

    1. Princy with Brene Brown

      Princy with Brene Brown

      Well if you can’t meet her, at least watch her Brene Brown Ted Talk on Vulnerability. She not only talks about vulnerability, she lives it. Seeing her behind the scenes at the conference (she was a keynote and going to speak to 10,000 people!) validated our admiration of her. Brene  was authentic, approachable, funny and gracious. She helped us feel comfortable and supported. We were inspired by her for not being, claiming, or acting “perfect.” She reminded us that we could make mistakes, errors, and be okay too. That’s a model and resource for all of us.


2. Imagine a Visual that Helps You Manage Your Fear

Working with Princy has reaffirmed my belief in the value of supportive friends and colleagues. Early in our collaboration, we developed an analogy of being in a river of rapids. We decided one of us could be in the river, in other words, feel overwhelmed, as long as the other person was on the shore – semi-confident. Periodically, one of us would say to the other “I’m in the river.” or “It’s okay, I’m on the shore”. This visualization and communication helped us recognize that both positions are possible and okay. Having someone on shore who understands the river and those feelings is really powerful. We listened to each other’s fears if we were in the river, and offered a hand to get back to shore. And yes, when we walked into the HUGE room, we both were in the river!

3. Make Stress Your Friend

Imagining the HUGE room filled with peers, made my heart beat faster. The good news is that when I felt my heart pounding, I recalled Kelly McGonigal’s 14 minute TedTalk on this topic. Watch it now to recognize the benefits of a beating heart!

4. Practice. Learn. Repeat.    

Whether watching the Olympics, listening to a great musician, or witnessing a colleague give an awesome presentation, it’s good to remind ourselves that those “greats” engaged in a lot of practice to get there. Most people we admire apply a lot of effort.  They recognize that they are not ‘done yet’ and make tweaks to continue to get better and improve.

Princy and I feared we had to be perfect. We were worried that people in the audience would know more about parts of the topic than we did. So we kept reminding ourselves that this was a ‘learning’  conference. We were asking the audience to learn from us, so we wanted to view this as an opportunity to learn from them. We told each other that we are not done learning yet!

In addition, the two of us spent countless hours researching, designing, and practicing our presentation for the conference. When confronted with the HUGE room, we knew we could logically remind ourselves that we had put in the practice time and effort to be there. We showed respect for our audience by being prepared. And this hard work also added to our respect for ourselves.

5. Talk to Yourself Like You’d Talk to Your Best Friend   

As I mentioned in my last post and discussed with good friends,  how many of you are your toughest critic?

Looking at the empty room the day before our presentation, Princy and my fears grew.  As our concerns gained momentum,  Princy and I were silently criticizing ourselves. Yet, certainly we weren’t criticizing each other.

If you’ve found yourself calling yourself “stupid” “idiotic” or other derogatory label, ask yourself if you would talk that way to a friend? What would you say to a friend who was struggling or who had made a mistake? Might it sound like: “That’s okay?” “Look what you’ve done so far.” “You can try again tomorrow.”

Fortunately, when Princy and I started encouraging each other in that empty HUGE room, we realized that supportive advice applied to ourselves as well. Changing your thoughts (internal voices) to encourage yourself like you would a friend is a great resource we can all tap into.

Did We Practice A Growth Mindset?

So our presentation in the HUGE room filled to capacity went really well. We received a lot of enthusiastic support from our peers. Many said our message about emotions and neuroplasticity would be useful in their learning and development programs. But one of the biggest benefits of presenting in this HUGE room was the opportunity for each of us to practice what we preach and increase our self-awareness of our thoughts.

We intentionally had the “opportunity” to seek and engage in a growth mindset. We learned a lot by having to struggle with our own self-doubting chatter and harness the resources we have within us. This experience sparked our desire to continue to work together, to continue to learn and grow, and to continue to practice developing our growth mindsets in our next stretch. We know we will be applying these strategies in our future. We hope you can use them for your next challenge too!


April Showers Bring May Flowers: Cultivating A Growth Mindset

Cultivating A Growth Mindset

Cultivating A Growth Mindset

Cultivating A Growth Mindset

As a New Englander, we cherish April showers, as it indicates we’ve gotten through winter; and flowers, sunshine, and warm weather may be on the way. While pessimists among us, call this time of year, ‘mud season’, many of us are already in our gardens with scarfs on, weeding, and getting it ready for our favorite, short season – summer!  Thinking that blossoms will grow from what was once snow, salt, and sand reminds me of the growth mindset research by  Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Stanford.  Carol Dweck Ted Talk on Growth Mindset

Earlier this month, Princy Quadros Mennella, Princy Quadros Mennella Neuroscience Program Director and Associate Professor of Biology at Bay Path University, and I spoke at the New England Area Regional  ATD Conference on “Cultivating A Growth Mindset” ” New England Area ATD Conference

It was our first time working together, which we linked to exercising our “growth” mindset. We were excited and a little nervous about bridging our two fields, learning and development with neuroscience, to help others recognize the biology and opportunity we all have to enhance our lives.  Princy’s background in the science and structure of our brain, coupled with my 20+ years of experience in learning and development in the workplace offered our workshop participants a glimpse into the benefits of cultivating a growth mindset for themselves as well as their learners. A few highlights from our presentation:

Three Differences between a Fixed and Growth Mindset

Fixed Mindset: Believes ability, talent and intelligence are innate

With this mindset, you believe you are born with these qualities and you either have them or you don’t.  You often here individuals with a fixed mindset say: “You’re an athlete” “I’m no good at math.” “You’re so smart.”

The fixed mindset individual tends to seek out opportunities that only support that image and avoid experiences that would change that mindset. In other words, if I say I’m not a cook, I don’t experiment with new recipes, and prefer ready-made foods from the grocery store or a night out at a restaurant. (Nothing wrong with that, just using that as an example!)

Growth Mindset:  Believes you can develop ability, talent, intelligence

People who have or who have cultivated a growth mindset, recognize that they might have been born with certain qualities, but they aren’t limited by them.  So with this mindset, I can say: “I may not be a good cook, yet!”

According to Princy, “Our abilities result from our brain’s function. The brain is capable of change at massive scales. It is constantly changing in structure and forming new connections as we learn a new skill or understand a new concept. Everyone’s brain has the ability to “grow” and change. Therefore, everyone has the potential to develop their abilities and talents.”

Princy gives us a useful example when she says, “ no one was born with knowing how to use touch screen technology, and it’s not very intuitive, yet, most everyone in the workplace (and unfortunately in restaurants, cars, and workshops) seems to have mastered this skills. “

Fixed:  Mistakes, failures, setbacks are unacceptable and effort makes you look weak

With a fixed mindset, individuals often think if they are really good at something, it should come easy. If something takes effort or if they try something and make a mistake, it means they are inadequate and a failure and shouldn’t do that again!  Mistakes turn into permanent character flaws or an action, I made a typo, turns into a noun, and I’m a horrible speller.  If I lose, I must be a loser. Setbacks for people with a fixed mindset can prevent them from engaging in similar activities in the future.

Growth: Learn from mistakes, failures and setbacks, and apply effort to improve

Most of the people we admire or call “naturals” or “stars” have put in countless hours of practice and effort.   As Michael Jordan, one, if not the best basketball player ever, has reportedly missed  more than 9000 shots in his career, lost about 300 games and  26 times was trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. Michael Jordan on Effort   His success was built on consistent practice and  recovering from setbacks.

Dweck and other researchers agreed that perseverance and resiliency found with a growth mindset is essential for creative achievement. Maybe the Einstein’s of the world are individuals who keep trying in the face of failure and mistakes?

Every time I make a mistake, I try to ask myself what did I learn and where can I apply more effort. I even sometimes sing poorly one of my favorite theme songs “I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up again” by TubThumping. Don’t worry; I’ll spare you the recording!

Fixed: Success of Others Threatens You

If you believe the pie is limited, you’ll be threatened by those who succeed, as taking your share.  (Yes, I use a lot of food metaphors) With a fixed mindset, we often acknowledge  others’ success as “luck” or unfair or they had it easy.

Growth: Find Inspiration in the Success of Others

Seeing other’s success whether it’s a new promotion, kudos from the boss, or in a personal relationship, inspires those with a growth mindset to be interested in ‘how’ the other succeeded and what strategies can they adopt to grow as well.

Princy recognized that when a co-worker receives an award for her research or her teaching, rather than being envious of her successes, she pays attention to the approach that led to her success. “If she adopted a new pedagogical technique to improve her teaching or if she initiated a collaboration that led to more research data, I recognize that those are strategies that I can adopt as well to be more successful in those areas.”

This is an area that people often struggle with because of inherent competitive nature of our jobs and careers. Competition often motivates but it doesn’t necessarily lead to growth mindset.

If as you read this, you recognize like Princy and I did, that you’re no stranger to a “fixed mindset”, there are things you can do about it.

3 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Yourself

  1. Listen to how you talk to yourself. Talk to yourself like your best friend would talk to you. Giving yourself support and encouragement.
  1. As Dweck advises, add “yet” or “now” to your statements, “I’m not good at financial planning yet.”
  1. Put something on your calendar that stretches you. Intereted in cultivating hera growth mindset about being a runner, Princy has put a 10k race on her calendar. My interest in changing my mindset of “not being a good cook, yet” has inspired me to add a new recipe each week.  We hope you’ll think of an area you want to stretch, and put an action and deadline to help you get motivated

3 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for others (learners/employees)

  1. Model a growth mindset (see above list). Admit mistakes. And if you’re successful at something, share what effort you took to get there.
  1. Allow time for mistakes and rework.  Reflecting on unsuccessful strategies can help others and you learn.  If the presentation didn’t go well, figure out why? And develop strategies for improving next time?
  1. Teach others the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Help them explore what they think and say to themselves, how they look at mistakes and challenges, and was they can do to cultivate a growth mindset.

Princy and I will continue to explore in our lives how to have more of a growth mindset, as we also deliver keynotes and workshops on this important topic.  We recognize that having a growth mindset is like cultivating a garden, and those setbacks will happen. (We’ve had snow in April in Maine!), and yet every day is a new day to practice, and build those highways in our brain to lifelong learning and development.

For more information on bringing a keynote or workshop on this topic to your organization, contact us at




I’m Anti-New Year’s Resolutions!

Yes, I’m against New Year’s Resolutions. And yet, I still make them. Oops, there goes my credibility. But let me explain why.

There’s just something hopeful about the New Year. Maybe it’s the champagne! Or maybe it’s that work slows down during the holidays giving us a chance to think about what is really important. Or maybe just seeing 2016 on the screen makes us feel hopeful.  So why do we set ourselves up for failure?

The research is clear. There are numerous studies on our chances of success. And it doesn’t look pretty. Take for example, according to research at the University of Minnesota, 80% of people who make a resolution on Jan 1 fall off the wagon by Valentine’s Day!

These are discouraging stats. It means not only a loss of accomplishing something we decide is valuable, but it’s also another chink in our self-confidence that we are people of our word. It’s disappointing and discouraging, AND it happens in the cold/dark winter!! Ugh!New Year's Resolutions

For example, the first Monday after new year’s, I made my daily TO DO list, which included brain and body work (part of my resolutions), and immediately emails came flooding in to disturb my reading a journal article (brain work), and potential exercise. I actually said outloud (Lucky no one heard me, except the dogs), “WHAT are all these people trying to do to derail me from my resolutions??”  Of course these people – clients and friends are not specifically trying to derail me, in fact, they are probably tackling things on their lists or their resolutions. But the thought came to me that it was hopeless. Starting the New Year “dejected” is not a good feeling.  So without going too long on this topic…(even though “blogging” is one of my goals for 2016!), I would like to make three recommendations about this time of year and resolving to grow and develop.

  1. Take 5 min. to write down your successes last year, personal and professional. What did you accomplish? What did you spend time on that you enjoyed? What were things that “filled you up?” Consider adding things to the list that challenged you and made you feel confident. This effort can give you a good feeling of success, and it can help propel you onto what you might want to spend more time on in the coming year. It’s nice to think that your new resolutions are something you’ve already been working on the last 12 months and you’re not starting from scratch.
  2. Take 5 min to write down some goals for the New Year. Sure include lofty goals like (e.g. “Get fit”) which can be inspiring, and yet be sure to include small segments of what you could do to achieve that (e.g. walk the dogs for 15 minutes, ride the stationery bike for 30, stretch for 10.) Look for bite size pieces that you can put on your To Do list and realistically tackle even if the emails come flooding in from others.
  3. Keep trying. Yesterday may have not been the ideal day that you envisioned, but tomorrow could be. As the Chinese proverb says, “Fall 7 times; get up 8.”

I’ve got a lot more tips on accomplishing goals, but I challenged myself to just take 15 minutes to write my first blog and I’m done!  (Come back for more blogs from me in 2016 and see if I keep my resolution!) Good luck!