Make good choices

Sitting at dinner at a small yacht club – sounds grand and it was and also was incredibly humble – and I’m on holiday. My husband and I live in Italy and we’re visiting family and friends in Australia.

My sister and brother-in-law have invited us to a weekly themed dinner. The main celebrated culprit is “Parma” as in Chicken Parmigiana, Veal Parmigiana, even a veggie option. Italians, please refrain from judgement. It’s a dish Australians have taken to heart and kinda ‘had our way’ with it. It’s good!

Back to our table. Men up one end, women on the other – all looking out to a bay view. Very old-school Australian. There’s a lot of happy chatter and my Italian husband is adding laughter lines to a few male faces as he recalls another tale from his past adventures. I can hear the volume rising – it’s Tuesday night so not many people are in the club yet and the laughter is appreciated.

In true Aussie style, the women’s conversation turns to parenting. We don’t have children but we still have most of our own childhood memories… I listen carefully. Issues are quite different from when I was little. Drugs seem to feature heavily in most environments and kids are responding in diverse ways.

I know I should just listen but my filter fails me at some point. A mum, and my sister’s very good friend, is talking about her teenage kids going to a concert in the city. That means an hour of bus travel and return. Worrying, I get that – remembering how I didn’t travel more than 20mins on my own until I was 17!
The mum is worried about the entire day – travel, festival entry, time at the festival, sunscreen, eating well or not, staying hydrated, influential ‘friends’, avoiding alcohol and of course, drugs.

And then comes the phrase where my listening becomes ‘active’:

“I tell my kids constantly to MAKE GOOD CHOICES”.

There’s a healthy pause while the other women digest this before nodding in agreement.

I’m gob-smacked. That’s it? The big phrase that makes all the world of difference? Can’t be! Me:

“[repeat phrase] but how does that work? They’re kids, how do they know it’s a good choice or not?”

You know when you’ve said something that’s better left unsaid. That was one of those moments. An almost undetectable snort is delivered from the initial sender of the message. She is clearly unhappy with me but I don’t notice then.

Later my sister tells me my questioning needed work. I’d offended.

I’m left shamed. I must think before I speak! Dam that faulty filter of mine! I really did wonder if that phrase worked. What evidence do we have that it does?

A few years later, I’m still whizzing that phrase in my head. I use it on myself quite a bit now.

Turns out there is a part of our brain that can process “good” from “bad” choices. Largely dependent on the model and information that have gone in during formative years but not only. There’s a ‘system one’ brain response – reactionary and impulsive. Then there’s ‘system two’ that lets us rationalise and explore the choice. Training to get into ‘system two’ mode is key here. Thanks “” for some very interesting reading*

Make good choices.

A simple phrase that can shave years off undoing a “bad” choice or “less-than-ideal-for-me” choice. Starting with giving our brains something to search for. This phrase above makes our brain ask a question “How good is this choice for me?” which triggers a ‘system two’ response.

Thanks Liz for sharing your wisdom. My humble apologies for the way I delivered my question. If I had had kids, I’d like to think I would pass on this incredibly useful phrase.

Make good choices.


Six Good Words that really help

Illness, disaster, the unexpected.

Anything can happen – any time.

When ‘stuff’ goes down, the people it affects get busy. They’re dealing with it. For us looking on, we can feel helpless and say pretty useless things, but we’d love to do something. The questions and offers can go something like this:

If you need anything, I’m here!

Well that’s lovely. I hope you feel better now you’ve said that.

You can count on me!

Great. Now I need to think how to ‘count on’ you…

I’m here for you.

Might be useful but what are you ‘here’ for? What task can you do?

Then there’s my favorite:

Tell me what I can I do!

Again, thanks but I don’t have the space to think about what you can do. I don’t even know what you ‘can’ do.

These four statements mean well, really well. But they’re not specific.

My sister, Danielle Burns, is a writer. She gave me this idea when we were talking about a novel she’s been writing. I asked her how it was going:

Sister: “Ok, I’ve written about 10,000 words this weekend.”

Me: “Wow, that’s great, isn’t it?”

Sister: “Not really, but then I edited. I’m down to 6 words.”

Me – feeling crestfallen for her: “Oh, so not so great then?”

Sister: “Actually yes. I’m really happy. I have SIX GOOD WORDS.”

This stuck.

Then I broke my ankle.

Loads of people rallied around. My husband was exhausted running me from physio, hospital and other doctor-related appointments. And doing all the daily errands that two people usually share and going to work. Offers like the four phrases above came in spades. Except a few:

I’ll do your shopping – send list.

This was one text message. Yes! This is help I really needed. Specific, too.

Another person:

You need social activity – coming now.

I was going a little crazy in our small apartment. Then it hit me. My sister’s words.

Six Good Words, designed by you.

Really supporting or helping someone is much simpler than I thought.

Six Good Words that really help. These are the only six words you need:

Here is what I will do: (count ‘em – yep, six good words!)

Before disaster strikes anyone you care about, get your list ready. What are the useful things you can do, be or organise?

Here are some examples – learnt from my sister who has been living six good words’ for years:

  • Drive: Be available for transport
  • Walk their dog (or anyone else who needs it)
  • Take them out for coffee – if they’re able – help them ‘be’ in the world
  • Do their shopping
  • Set up a blog with news to friends and relatives about your person
  • Set up a CrowdFunding page if they need financial support
  • Play with their children / homework help
  • Cook a healthy dinner – and leave it for them
  • Clean, or organise a cleaner for their house
  • Call them and LISTEN

TIP: List things you are HAPPY to do/be/organise – this makes it a whole lot easier on everyone.

Six GOOD words that really help.

Six GOOD words designed by you.


Six Good Words – more or less…

My earliest memories are of my dad inventing stories late at night to put me to sleep. The stories were full of colourful characters, unsuspected twists and opportunities for me to imagine and add or take the lead.

Hearing stories led into reading stories – aloud – my dad with his finger on the recording button of a ‘Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86’ styled device. Later, together with my brother and sister, we’d listen to each other’s interpretation, consider some feedback from dad then record again.

Now I’m on the creative end – designing training sessions and presentations. After reading Greg McKeown’s ‘Essentialism’ the idea for  ‘six good words‘ started brewing: Less Words, Better Outcome.

Welcome to ‘six good words‘. Here I’ll share short phrases or questions to communicate with less, but better.

Six Good Words?

I’m Australian who had no intention of ever leaving my birth place permanently. That is, until 2001 when my world changed forever.

I took myself to small town in central Italy to study Voice. In my third week, I met my husband. It took a few years to work out where we’d live but in April 2004, I returned to Italy and set up my new life with loads of enthusiasm, a little fear of the unknown and zero Italian.

Living and working in Italy since 2004, I’ve come face-to-face with my communication limitations. These limitations were originally linguistic, like you’d expect. I also discovered my communication style needed work. Too many words, in any language, and the message becomes diluted.

Progressing from teaching into training and presenting roles, I needed to become more specific and economic with words. This is what I’ll share with you on this blog. Six good words, more or less, to communicate better.