Life Coaching: ‘Setting out your stall’ Versus ‘seeing what happens’

Sean Mooney

Sean Mooney: Looks just like his uncle!

With the amount of blood on the canvas, it looked like it was all over. But the guy was tough. Using a towel to squeeze the bridge of his nose, the Corner man stemmed the bleeding. The boxer himself dismissed the referees’ concerns and the fight was allowed to continue. In a cold town hall in a tough part of London, this guy was competing against my nephew, Sean Mooney. The fight was scheduled for eleven, 3-minute rounds. 5 rounds of Chess and 6 rounds of Boxing.  Normally I don’t like violence. But standing at the corner of the ring – my main job was to wash the mouth guard after each round – I was caught up in the moment, screaming encouragement. After what seemed like an epic battle, Sean eventually won and now holds the Middle-weight title in the sport of chess-boxing.

Chess Boxing:  Have you ever heard of Chess Boxing? No?  At first I thought it was some sort of ‘while collar’ sport where middle-class guys could beat each other up in relative safety. Perhaps a way to get rid of aggression if the markets were on a Bear run? But, it turns out that this is serious stuff. The contestants box for 3 minutes. Then play chess (in the centre of the ring) for 3 minutes with one glove removed. The chessboard is projected onto a large screen and the audience follows and cheers each move. A clued-in commentator provides a running update on the chess match as it unfolds, similar to a boxing commentator on TV making sense of what’s happening in the ring.  The boxers wear large earphones when they’re playing chess, getting blasted with loud music. Try playing chess when you’ve just been punched full force in the face and then listening to Roxy Music at 130 Decibels (I’m told it’s disorientating, but have zero wish to verify this).

Science Fiction: The origin of the sport was, interestingly, a science fiction novel. In the ‘future society’ portrayed – leaders were chosen based on a combination of courage and intelligence –  a ‘Chess-Boxing’ contest. Chess Boxing as a sport was made real just over 10 years ago, by the Dutch performance artist Lepe Rubingh. Initially seen as an ‘art performance’, it’s since developed into a fully competitive sport and grown in popularity.  The rules are fairly simple. You win by a knockout (Boxing) or checkmate (Chess). So on this cold winters night, ‘science-fiction’ i.e. the product of someone’s imagination, had become something very real in the East End of London. Watching from the side of the ring, the following thought occurred: Would it be possible for us to apply something similar in our own lives?  Could we first imagine something and then actually make it happen?

Bob Fulmer: Many years ago I had the privilege to work alongside Bob Fulmer, then Professor of Organisation development in Columbia University.  Bob’s expertise was in Executive Development – but his intelligence spanned the entire gamut of psychology.  One time, as I was teaching a class ‘at the front’ – Bob was sitting at the back of the conference room scribbling furiously. Later on, I asked him what he’d been doing.  It turned out that he was ‘planning’ exactly where he would be on New Years Eve – ten years into the future.  Now, I understand that this idea may seem somewhat bizarre. What sort of ‘control need’ would drive you to pre-plan an event a decade in advance? But this wasn’t about control per se. Bob was a convert to the idea (brilliantly argued in the book Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz) that if you can imagine the future – you can create it.  No, not something fanciful – like a weekend on Koh Samui with Cheryl Cole.  But a future you really believe in and want to make happen.  The question for you (and me) is as follows:  Is there something powerful that you want to move towards?  Can you envisage this in some detail and ‘pre-program’ your mind to move towards this?

While Sean Mooney won that tough chess-boxing match, the rest of us mere mortals face an even bigger challenge i.e. winning the game of life.  Arguments around ‘what’s the best way to make this happen?’ are probably 50,000 years old. Essentially there are two ‘schools of thought’ (a) you should set out your stall and make concrete plans (b) You should ‘see what happens’, letting the Universe provide the answers.

In my role as an Executive Coach, I’ve worked alongside many successful people. As far as I know, none of them won the Lotto or, if they did, they never shared that information. The man or woman at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there. Deciding to change your life is a full contact sport.  Becoming the best version of yourself, improving your finances, mental health or relationships requires an active commitment.  My bias is definitely towards the ‘set out your stall’ approach. Take time to plan what you want to achieve. Aim high. Then commit to winning. It’s hardly a secret. But, even though the answer is clear, not everyone has the wherewithal to actually make it happen. Step away from the herd.


HR ‘Innovation of the Month’:  A Korean HR consultancy has come up with a great way to get people ‘energised’ about their life. Get them to ‘stage’ their own funerals. Employees write ‘farewell’ letters to their families – then climb into caskets which are banged shut. Apparently this allows you some ‘reflection time’ in the darkness. The company President, Park Chung-Woong, argues that it’s such a shocking experience, it helps to ‘reset’ your mind. So, the next time someone in your organisation starts moaning about instant coffee or the speed of the photocopier, get them to think ‘inside the box’. Now, why didn’t I think of that?  I’ll bet there’s a huge market for this… this could be my last ever blog.  I may be retiring shortly.

PS: Lighter Notes:  I Almost Became A Doctor (From Andrew O’Connell)

When I was young I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I took the entrance exam to Medical School. One of the questions asked us to rearrange the letters PNEIS 
into the name of an important part of the human body which is most useful when erect. Those who answered SPINE are doctors today. The rest of us are sending jokes via email!

Get A Lift: (from my brother Tony in Canada)

Was in an elevator the other day and this woman kept screaming and screaming at the top of her voice. I just thought it was wrong on so many levels.

Dating Game: I used to date Stephi Graf’s sister, Polly. We broke up after she accused me of being a liar.

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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2 Responses to Life Coaching: ‘Setting out your stall’ Versus ‘seeing what happens’

  1. midwifesean says:

    Ever the encourager of insight and reflection , like a career priest guiding the lesser driven mortals of the workforce . Us drifters in the career ether stumble from one salary to the next , eager for a new path but steered by mortgage and property tax . Keep the homilies coming and one of these glorious days , the leap of faith will be taken . As ever always enjoyable read..

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