Everybody likes a fish


10 years ago I attended a ‘train –the –trainer’ programme. On day 1, the trainer told us the ‘Parable of the Porpoise’. This story turned the 3 weeks into an unforgettable experience. Having lived that experience, turned me into a ‘believer’. And since then, I just have to share it with everybody I meet.

The ‘Parable of the Porpoise’ is originally from Gregory Bateson. Please find the short version below, in my own words.

The parable of the porpoise explains how dolphins learn. (By the way: a porpoise is a type of dolphin).
Everybody has probably seen a dolphin show, live or on television. Often, there are two ‘pools’: the ‘show’ pool and the ‘living’ pool, where the dolphins go after the show is over.
Whenever a dolphin goes to the ‘show’ pool for the first time, the trainer doesn’t tell it what to do. He just observes. Whenever the dolphin does something that could be seen as a trick (eg: it does something with its tail), the trainer does 2 things: he blows his whistle and gives the dolphin a fish. The dolphin is happy but doesn’t really understand why it got the fish. However, when he does the ‘tail thing’ again, the trainer does the same thing: he blows his whistle and gives the dolphin a fish. Now the dolphin gets it. For the rest of that session it will be rewarded whenever it does the ‘tail thing’.
When the next session starts, the dolphin enthusiastically does the ‘tail thing’ but… nothing happens. ‘Maybe the trainer didn’t see it’, the dolphin thinks and it tries again, this time right in front of the trainer. Nothing… The dolphin gives up and swims away… A little bit later, the dolphin happens to do something else: it jumps. The trainer blows his whistle and gives a fish. And the dolphin understands it’s being rewarded for the new behaviour.
To cut a long story short, this happens 14 times. Each time the dolphin comes back to the ‘show’ pool, it will do the trick from last time and it will be disappointed when it is not being rewarded. Every once in a while the trainer will give a fish (without the whistle) to keep the dolphin happy. The 15th time, however, something happens: it’s as if the dolphin ‘got’ it. When it comes into the ‘show’ pool, it does 8 things it has never done before, 4 of which were never done by a dolphin! And this is where the ‘parable’ ends.

After telling us the story, our trainer said that this was a metaphor for positive feedback. And… that during our programme, the only type of feedback we would give and get would be … positive. After every exercise, we were supposed to give each other a ‘fish’. A ‘fish’ was a little piece of paper with 2 names and 2 (half) sentences.

Dear X (name of the person the fish was meant for)
I’ve noticed that ___________________________ (specific behaviour of X)
I like(d) it because ________________________ (effect of behaviour on Y)
Name Y (=observer) (No anonymous fish!)

Further instructions were: you should always be able to find a fish and… you had to be honest!

I can assure you there was quite some resistance in the room. ‘What? Only positive feedback? How will I know what I do wrong?’
I have to admit I wasn’t completely convinced myself. I was totally in favour of positive feedback but… in combination with negative feedback. Unfortunately, only fish were allowed…

Let me give you an example:
Imagine: 4 people are doing an excercise together and 3 of them have to write a fish for the 4th one: John.

Fish 1:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you have good eye contact.
I like it because I felt spoken to personally.
Person 1 

Fish 2:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you have good eye-contact.
I like it because it helped me to stay focussed.
Person 2 

Fish 3:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you gave good examples.
I liked it because it helped me to understand the theory better.
Person 3.

As you can see, it’s possible for 2 people to observe the same behaviour, which can have a different effect on them.

You’ll be curious to find out what happened during our course. Well, we only received positive feedback and still improved! How? Let’s go back to the example given above: suppose I am not so good at keeping eye contact. But… now that I’ve experienced the effect of it, I’m more likely to pay attention to it in the future! I will also pay attention to using good examples, etc…

So we were both getting better AND enjoying the lovely compliments… What more can you wish for?

Convinced? Give it a try. Next time I’ll come back with some practical tips on how you can use the fish in your daily life, both at home as in the office!

You can find the original version here: ‘The Parable of the Porpoise’

Good luck!

(Credits to Table19 Stock for the photo)

If you liked the above, you can sign up for more Tips & Tricks here. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Being grateful

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year and winter has officially started.

Most people are getting ready for the holidays, which can be a bit stressful. They might be buying presents for Christmas and New Year, fretting about what to cook, dreading sitting through yet another family dinner… Some will already be making a list of everything they want to achieve in 2015. How about you?

Just this once, I would like you to look back on 2014 and focus on everything you are grateful for: new friends you got to know or old ones that were there for you when you needed them, a wonderful trip, a job you love…

Sometimes we forget this, especially the small moments… And that is a shame. Because being grateful makes you a happier person. So… here’s a little practice you might want to try out: every night, before going to bed, think about 3 things you are grateful for. Take it seriously… don’t ‘automatically’ choose every day the same 3 (like: I’m grateful I’m healthy, I’m grateful for my family and I am grateful I have a job). Find 3 things you really ‘felt’ grateful for during that particular day. So… it is possible that ‘I’m grateful I’m healthy’ IS on your list, when you went to visit somebody in hospital, for instance. I am only saying it shouldn’t be your standard answer… I repeat, it can be very small things: I am grateful for the tip I got from my colleague: it’s going to make my life so much easier. Or… I’m grateful for that particular friend for taking the time to listen to me today. Or… when I was walking in the park this afternoon and saw that beautiful sunset, I felt really grateful. Try it out and you might even sleep better at night…


And for those who are visual and/or like an arts and crafts project: why not make a gratitude (or blessing) jar. You can take any jar, embellish it if you want by putting a nice ribbon on it, or painting it or… And then, whenever you feel particularly grateful for something, you write it on a little piece of paper, you fold it and you put it in the jar. Over the year you keep on filling the jar. And then there are different options. Whenever you feel particularly down, you open the jar and read some of the messages you put in. Notice what happens. Another option is to wait until the end of the year, go through them all at once and… count your blessings. Happy holidays!

If you liked the above, you can sign up for more Tips & Tricks here. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Heart Coherence


It is a breathing method that is claimed to facilitate circulation and autonomic nervous system balance. It involves breathing at the nominal rate of x (find out exact number in instructions below!) breaths per minute with equal inhalation and exhalation. It also increases heart rate variability and brings it into coherence, but here we are more interested in the calming effect. Your autonomic nervous system has 2 branches: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic is also considered the ‘fight or flight’ system. It’s the one that ‘prepares’ your body to deal with ‘danger’. The parasympathetic nervous system is ‘rest and digest’. It calms the body down, after it has ‘dealt with the danger’.

Why here?

As mentioned above: it can calm you down. Besides, when used on a regular basis, it can have a lasting effect on your stress resistance.

Use in stress management: when you are very stressed, breathing like this can calm you down. It is even said that, if you can start breathing like this at the very beginning of noticing the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, you can actually stop it. And, as mentioned above: when done on a regular basis (eg. 10 minutes twice a day), it can make you more stress resistant.

Use in assertiveness: to keep calm in difficult situations, when dealing with aggressive and manipulative behaviour, to enable you to keep the win/win, OK/OK attitude, to stay calm when somebody pushes your button.


The instructions below are based on those explained by David O’Hare in the book below. His full programme is 9 weeks:

  • Week 1 – 3: From chaos to heart coherence
  • Week 4 – 6: From heart coherence to emotional coherence
  • Week 7 – 9: From emotional coherence to food coherence

The info I share here is linked to the first part. If you are also interested in the rest, I definitely recommend checking out his book.

Since it’s important to only move to the next level, when you’ve really mastered the previous one (and since people are curious by nature), I’ve separated the instructions for the 3 weeks in 3 different documents. These are the instructions:

Heart coherence week 1

Heart coherence week 2

Heart coherence week 3

More info?


Dr David O’Hare: Slanker met je hartritme (NL) or Maigrir par la cohérence cardiaque (FR). It doesn’t exist in EN

Dr David Servan-Schreiber: Healing without Freud or Prozac (EN). The book exists in many languages.


www.coherencecardiaque.org (FR)

www.heartmath.com (EN)


If you liked the above, you can sign up for more Tips & Tricks here. Looking forward to hearing from you!