At work Coaching Performance

Talking to: memory expert Mark Channon Total Memory Blueprint creator on anxiety and memory

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Leading corporate coach Mark Channon says when it comes to memory it’s all about maintaining motivation and learning to handle information overload. A natural educator Mark finds himself in high demand in the corporate world. But as he tells L-SL’s Lauren Keefer, he also loves to work in the education system and with entrepreneurial types as well.

Less-Stress London: You’ve written three books on the subject, launched a game show and created a training programme to improve memory skills. Where did you learn the techniques for it all?
Mark Channon: Well, I read a lot. Everything’s really a compilation of research I’ve done over the years, but actually many of the strategies I’ve created have come from working with clients. Sometimes I’ll be creating a strategy on the spot, get a new insight and incorporate that into what I teach. People still come up with different issues they want to address even 25 years into this, because everyone is so different.

What I try to do when creating the training is take the common challenges people have and focus on those.

L-SL: What are the most common obstacles people face?
MC: There are a few. I invariably have to help people overcome a lack of time or energy. Another challenge is how to filter what’s important. How do they decide what they actually need to remember? Focus is another one, especially with those prone to mind-wandering and procrastination. Finally, how does one actually apply it? How do they make it practical, and get value back from it? I work out what’s important to my clients – whether that’s remembering shopping lists or employees’ names – and teach them how they can apply my techniques in their life.

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L-SL: It sounds as though you use a lot of therapy techniques. Does your coaching overlap at times with therapy?
MC: In coaching it’s future-focused, whereas most therapists tend to work with the past. Coaching means I challenge people to be more focused about what is it they want to achieve and how that’s going to help them in life. I help clients raise their challenges and I keep them accountable for what they say they’re going to do. It’s all about taking people from where they are now to where they want to be.

L-SL: What’s important to clients must change though. Do you work on certain goals with different age groups?
MC: With teenagers, we focus more on study techniques. It can be challenging but really rewarding, especially as I have to deal with class control. I’ve only got six hours to get them on board with the programme and then teach them something they can use. In the 25 to around 44 age bracket, I tend to work with professionals who want to progress in their career or start their own business. With older adults, it’s focusing on maintaining their memory. They’re looking after themselves more and thinking they want to keep themselves sharp.

L-SL: You work with quite a lot of business people. What level do you typically work with?
MC: They generally fall into two groups I see a lot of professionals who are moving up into a management role or transitioning into a higher management role. However, I also work with a lot of founders or CEOs of startups or smaller businesses looking for an executive coach to help them perform at their highest level or overcome specific challenges.

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L-SL: Do you prefer working with transitioning employees or top executives?
MC: Both have rewarding challenges. Professionals who are moving up are usually dealing with steep learning curves, information overload and sometimes high levels of anxiety, whereas founders or CEOs are usually high achievers looking for solutions to specific problems, to gain a competitive advantage or to find a balance.

L-SL: What’s the most common workplace problem your clients face?
MC: The most common problems I tend to experience are to do with anxiety. There do tend to be two generic types of performance-based situations. In one, people are looking for a transactional change where they have a set of objectives. They need to understand what challenges are in their way and then generate a number of solutions that could help them.

In the second, a person has something less tangible slowing them down or completely blocking them moving forward. That’s a lack of confidence or long-held belief about themselves. The change that can happen here may be more challenging to create. However, when it happens it tends to be transformational and impact other areas of their life.

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L-SL: Anxiety and stress must have a significant impact on memory functions for everyone. How do you combat that?
MC: Obviously when living with anxiety, the amygdalae (deep in the brain’s temporal lobes) take over instead of the prefrontal cortex. The brain just doesn’t work as efficiently at that level of stress, making it much harder to remember things. I used to see it on stage all the time as an actor: if you get anxious or nervous, your brain just shuts down. You have to be able to then relax and get your confidence back, and then you’ll remember it. Clients are often anxious about public speaking or acting, when a lot of it is just remembering what they’re going to say. I handle the confidence part.

When living with anxiety… the brain just doesn’t work as efficiently, making it much harder to remember things

But I also have to challenge people on what makes them anxious in the first place. There are certain beliefs people hold, beliefs about their stress that give them a level of certainty in their life, such as “I don’t have time”. What exactly does that mean? I try and shift their thinking, to ultimately give them a different belief: “I have enough time to do things I need to”.

L-SL: That’s not an easy task. What’s your trick to changing beliefs?
MC: People are always surprised at this, but I never start with memory when I work with people. I always start with the why. Why they want to improve their memory, why they want the programme. When people get clarity of what they want, their motivation goes through the roof. Then you can identify some of the challenges they might face. When people are primed in that way and they know what they’re after, they’re much more likely to be follow through and be successful.

Read our profile of Total Memory Blueprint Profile here.



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