The Einstein Workout Zone

Or, how I passed CIMA Case Study the 5th time round!

By Denise Faller

She was laughing as she climbed out her car. ‘ Hi. I’m Brenda.  I took a wrong detour on my way here, and this pretty much describes my life – that I can set out for a destination, but can’t always be sure when I’ll arrive, just that I will eventually get there! ”

Brenda had been sent to me by a CIMA lecturer a few days earlier.  She had failed the CIMA qualifying Case Study Exam an exhausting 5 times, and was at her wits end about how she could change the outcome.


‘I am a diligent student, and before, I have always passed the first time round’, she said, describing her dilemma. ‘Coming up to my CIMA final Case Study Exam, I was sure I would succeed the same again. Yet for some reason, I joust couldn’t find a way to get through.’

She continued, With this exam I managed to fail – then fail again, and again and again, and every time it was just by the skin of my teeth. I felt like such a disgrace while crying my eyes out, as I failed for a fourth time. I felt so frustrated –  I couldn’t do more than I was already doing, and neither could I understand what I was doing wrong, because I knew my work.’

Brenda’s deep frustration was evident as she describe her situation. ‘I’m feeling utterly despaired, after my multiple attempts, not knowing what I’m doing wrong.  I asked a CIMA Risk lecturer at The University of Johannesburg, what I could do, and he said that the one person to see was Denise Faller. I then contacted THORT and asked for your help.

I found Brenda eloquent, spunky, and she was employed as a lecturer in the technical aspects of the subject, it was unlikely that she had failed this exam 4 times from lack of knowledge or ability.

She whizzed through a Cognitive Mode and Stress Assessment, and again, showed up really well. So far there was no indication of why she consistently failed this exam. The cause obviously lay elsewhere, and that’s why she had been sent to me.

It was time to take her through THORT’s System for Strategic Navigation in a Challenge.

The brain functions at two levels

Kosslyns dual brain -2I began by introducing the idea of our brain functions being divided into two levels.

‘The top level we call the Smart Brain where we explore, evaluate, do complex planning, and a bottom level we called the Basic Brain, where we do automatic learned busy-work and also store our heartfelt responses.

We use both levels together, almost all the time, but usually the Basic Brain does tends to be dominant, for over 95% of the time. She seemed comfortable with the concept so I Showed her a puzzle of an Egyptian Dhow, our THORT metaphor for the way our mind + brain + body connections function. We are unaware of this most of the time, but we can build our Mindful IQ (intelligence) to be more strategically aware and agile when we want to bring about a new result.  Brenda nodded.

The Mental Gatekeeper

I picked up a THORT Mindful IQ case and selected the central oval shape then placed it front of Brenda.

She studied it for a moment then asked: ‘So what’s with the little person holding the ‘GO’ sign?’

‘That’s your Mental Gatekeeper,’ I responded.  ‘The Gatekeeper directs the way your mind works in a challenging situation,’ I said. ‘She is centrally positioned to make it easy for her to keep up with all that is going on both above and below stairs. She decides when you may, or may not, move up the stairs.’

dhow-centralpuzzelpeice-1aBrenda raised her eyebrows,  and smiled deprecatingly at the idea of something in her head telling her what to do.  She then pointed at the details at the bottom of the image.

‘I get it that the coal fuels our energy. Are the red lights for danger?’ I nodded, then handed her the two bottom pieces which she added to the central shape.

‘What are the letters behind the stairs?’ I asked. 

Brenda was silent for a few moments as she scanned the image. ‘I think I know what it says,’ she declared, ‘but I can’t find the last few letters.’ I stayed silent letting her complete the puzzle, then she added, ‘It’s as if my basic brain immediately recognized the word ‘uncertain’, but my Smart Brain is still catching up with finding the missing letters.’

‘Tricky!’ she finally protested. ‘I saw the ones you hid behind the ladder, but you placed the letters ‘I and n’ too close together, so I read them as a ‘w’. That’s not playing fair!’ she laughingly protested. 

She leaned back in her chair and silently reflected. ‘Sometimes I am too hasty and I do jump to conclusions before I have all the information,’ she admitted. ‘But, I don’t think this is really what’s making me fail so often. This could catch me out once or twice, but not four times.’  I agreed.

It was time for the Mental Metaphor.

BrainBoat-Blank-500I showed her the image of  the THORT Dhow and briefly explained that it was a metaphor illustrating the way her brain worked. We would apply this visual metaphor to her experience of writing the exams.  ‘It’s a rather an odd looking boat,’ she began.  I agreed.

‘It was modeled along the lines of a Egyptian Dhow, rather than a speed boat,’ I said, ‘And, being a unique African design from a developing continent, it is an ongoing work in progress.’

She smiled and added, ‘Rather like my CIMA experience – never done!’

‘Stairs!’ she responded, as she examined the piece, ‘The stairs at the bottom are really bad. You need a new builder!’ she announced.

‘Yes,’ I agreed laughing. ‘That’s the problem with the brain. It’s an odd construction, initially formed by our genes, then continually added to by each experience we have.’

Introducing the powerful Basic Brain 

‘The boat is heavy and strong here,’ she commented, as she linked the bottom pieces of the puzzle together.

‘Yes. We have the Emotional Boiler room on the bottom right, and the green office space, where learning and familiar busy-work gets done.’ I explained that these structures represent the communication neural networks between our minds and body. They are initially formed both by our genes, but our experiences and learning over our lifetime modify this.

Brenda decided that neither area was a problem, because she did handle stress well, and, although she could always do more work, it was really unlikely that this was the reason she had failed so often. I agreed on both counts.

The flimsy SmartBrain

We moved up to the Navigator region at the top left and she commented that this area was very different from the earlier pieces – it was flimsy, and, she laughed, rather poorly built. She was not convinced that it would survive the buffeting she had received in her last two Case Study exams!

I pointed out the Navigator was responsible for planning the best route forward, considering the current and future conditions, and then making decisions about ‘if and when to act’.

‘Whew!’ she exclaimed. ‘That is a big responsibility!’ Yet again, she thought she handled this reasonably well, although she did have to guard against her impulsive nature.

She then assembled the final piece on the right, the Wings Explorer region. ‘Why is it different from the rest?’ she enquired. ‘It’s empty – with no people.’ She hesitated then offered a further challenge: ‘And the railing at the end looks unsteady. If you were on the edge you could easily fall overboard – It would offer you no real support! Maybe there are no people left!’ she joked.

‘Yes. It’s certainly not the place to be in bad weather,’ I agreed, smiling.

‘Well, I think this boat needs a new builder, one that completes the railings, for a start!’ she announced firmly.

I agreed and continued. ‘The area on the right represents the neural path supporting an Open Mindset. We need  to be in this mental state when we explore new things, and like the bird, we need to scan widely, all the while not being certain what we will find in territory.’

‘I also think I’m OK here. I’m very confident exploring new things.’ I agreed.

Introducing the Wise One

mwiseone-pedastel-circle‘So who is this in the middle at the very top, then?’ she enquired. ‘She certainly gets a good view of the world around her, and she can see things long before they arrive.’

‘She is the Wise One, ‘I answered, ‘the one that keeps an eye on everything to make sure everything is running well – and then she keeps it that way.

She is really comfortable with complexity and uncertainty, and is well prepared for the constant inflow of reports , even when they appear ambiguous. Fundamentally, she evaluates the quality of risk and it potential to create chaos in the situation, and then decides the best way to navigate in the unfamiliar space.’

‘Oh. I see where this is going. VUCA!  I smiled and nodded.

‘Chaos can occur both inside and outside the THORT Dhow, and it’s her job to ensure that her helpers on the boat are not put at undue risk.’ I said. ‘She integrates incoming information from both sources, and then constantly evaluates the degree of risk against the opportunity’.

The middle lookout zone, at the role the Wise One played in the situation. Her elevated position gave her a clear view of the environment and allowed her to evaluate the significance of the information from Wings with the Navigator’s plans.

When I enquired how confident she was that her Wise One was on target, she laughed deprecatingly, saying that she didn’t feel very wise, after failing 4 times! Then added that she was really strong in accepting new challenges in the exam.

So where’s the problem?

Brenda sat back in her chair and sighed deeply. ‘So, what’s the problem then? Nothing seems to stand out yet, and I still don’t know what I can do to finally pass so I can get on TC-MsP-Stuck-LowRoadEinsteinwith my life!’ she protested.

I explained that it was good news that there were no glaring problems here, because there was less work for her to do to get the new result. We had the overview of the way her mind, brain and body work together and this looked excellent, but now we needed to explore how she focused her mind in specific challenges. We moved on to the exploratory area we call our Einstein Workout Zone.

Brenda commented, ‘Einstein had defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It was obvious that I was missing something and I so I reached out to you for help.’


I responded that the kind of Smart Thinking Workout done in the Einstein Zone could bring about unique insights. Here you need to relax, suspend earlier judgement, and be open to do new ‘deep work’ as you scan and link specific elements in context and time.

This introducing polarity mapping applied to the Egyptian Dhow and we directly applied it to her situation. We spent the next half-hour exploring specific areas in real depth.

The Einstein Workout clearly revealed Brenda’s in-balance in the way she had used her Smart and Basic thinking in this challenge. ‘I get it now!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s simple really, but I would never have thought of writing the exam in this way. I’ve never done this before but it makes sense now.’


Brenda  sat back in her chair and smiled.  ‘I was so confident in my skills, that I didn’t realize my Wise One was half asleep in this exam, and that the ‘Go / Don’t-Go’ signalling of the Gatekeeper was way off target! So I have did have two areas that needed Smarter work. This is a real mindshift for me, but I can do this.’

She described her Wise One as previously misjudging the challenge of the exam.  She had written the exam as a technically knowledgeable professional woman, yet she expressed this through a familiar lens of a female leader working in the culture and from of a developing country. This was the wrong mental lens for the challenge which was hosted in a global business setting.

‘I know what to do differently now, how to finally pass this exam!’ she bubbled with delight. ‘I feel that I could write the exam tomorrow and pass it, using the knowledge I already have, plus the insight I got today!’

Brenda’s Wise One wins the day

I left for overseas the next day, and we spoke once a few weeks later on WhatsApp a day before the exam. Here we spent an hour reviewing a THORT C-Map (concept map) designed to focus her mind on her specific challenge in context. 

A while later I received her celebratory message:  ‘One consultation was all that was needed! I’ve passed! I couldn’t be more grateful for the privilege since this lead to my success. Thank you Denise!’


She later  wrote a thank-you mail.

‘… After our session, I walked out in confidence with a new view on this exam. Denise, you  gave me the extra edge that helped me pass with flying colours first time round after my consultation.

You made an effort beyond what is expected and I am so glad that I was guided to see you, otherwise my results would have been a fail again this time. 

Denise, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me succeed and making me aware of where I need [more engagement and depth] to achieve great success going forward.’ 





NOTE: Denise Faller is founder of the THORT Neurocoaching System and works with the University of Johannesburg Financial Accounting Training CIMA course to promote the goals of the 30% club by helping young women move up in their careers.  At this level they are usually successful graduates and have already been employed in a management position for a number of years. Denise is approached when they find that their career paths are blocked because, for some indefinable reason, they can’t take the next step in their career. 

This is a modified narrative of Denise’s neurocoaching session, to help a Managerial Accounting university lecturer, pass the final CIMA case study exam.  Denise did expand her coaching into the specific details holding Brenda back which are not relevant here. The article includes comments made during the session and also written by the candidate before and afterwards. 


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