Author Archives: Judy Apps

About Judy Apps

Judy Apps - coach, trainer and speaker - is author of three books on voice, communication and confidence, including Voice & Speaking Skills For Dummies. She leads you gently and irrevocably towards major improvements in your voice and speaking skills and in your confidence and whole sense of yourself. And you'll have fun in the process! Why struggle to learn when transformation can be enjoyable and energising?

Recharging

2nd LawAnd so it goes on.

Clocks go back.

I fell down a rabbit hole again today.

You know – when you read something on the internet which links to something else, and when you follow the link, that reveals something else, which, when you follow that link …? So, I was surfing – burrowing rather – when the first law of thermodynamics popped up and I realised that I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. (Not something you admit in public of course, I mean who doesn’t know the first law of thermodynamics?)

So I looked it up:

Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.

Wikipedia takes over 9,000 words interspersed with dozens of formulae to say that, but that’s the basic premise.

Flat

I couldn’t be bothered to read the 8,950+ surplus Wiki-words: I was feeling flat. Flat is a word I’ve heard a lot this year. Many of us don’t like to say we’re feeling dejected, or pessimistic, miserable, depressed, disconsolate, dispirited, desolate or broken regarding our current human and planetary lot, so we say to people we’re feeling a bit flat. How often, particularly during this Covid period, do you wake up and feel low on energy? It’s very common. Most of us have the experience of ebbs and flows of energy, if not more extreme threats to our mental health.

So there was I feeling “flat” – low energy – and the first law of thermodynamics prompted a question, “Where had the energy gone if energy is never destroyed, only converted from one form to another? Also, how did I lose it? If my energy is low, the first law of thermodynamics suggests I’m using or dissipating it elsewhere. And, of course, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Sometimes, we don’t know what’s draining our energy. A friend who seemed to me to have coped brilliantly during this pandemic year, living in a gardenless second-storey flat with a young family , told me that she didn’t fully realise the tension of living in a crowded city until she went on holiday to an isolated location for a week, and felt a huge weight lift.

Sometimes, however, we do know, don’t we? I had a meeting with someone the other day and felt wrung out like a towel after they had gone, but I knew how it had happened. They were demanding my attention for too long without a mutual understanding, pushing me too far in their requests, and I allowed them to do this, from politeness or a wanting for things to be pleasant, against my better judgement. So I was basically fighting against myself. Exhausting.

What’s depleting your energy?

I think it’s always worth investigating what’s draining your energy. The depletion is often due to fighting yourself, as in the last example. Putting on any sort of act is always tiring if it confronts your values.

Fighting “what is” also drains our battery drastically. This often happens when life wants to move on, and you refuse to let it. You say to yourself: I am this sort of person in this sort of life and that’s how it is. And you get stuck.  Huge energy is dissipated in forcing things to stay the same, when change is the natural order of things…

Hey, wait a minute, you say, the whole problem with this year is that we are stuck, stuck at home, stuck in the same daily grind, stuck in the middle of a wretched pandemic which isn’t going to end soon. No wonder the winter ahead looks like a pit of trouble, danger and discord. We are stuck.

And the battery runs down.

Move a little

We feel stuck. Yet, there’s energy for recharging everywhere if I look.

There’s always movement. There’s always breathing. We’ve been created like that. You are always moving physically, even if it’s the slightest change of air moving your body in deep sleep. Movement is often the answer to flatness or any other drained energy. Of course, the gremlins will still whisper in your ear, “Don’t move, you’re too tired”, but that is also usually untrue.

Have you ever tried moving just a little bit when you feel sluggish, and a minute hand movement gradually gains more movement and turns into an arm movement which turns into a slight stretch of the waist or shoulders, and a yawn, and soon your whole body is flowing, and will flow further if you let it. Then when you stop, you realise that the movement was energising, and has created endorphins – energy!

The dynamism of the change of the seasons, every moment different. A week or so ago, I awoke to a bright red sky in the early morning. I rushed downstairs in my nightdress to get my iPhone, but by the time I got back upstairs to take the photo the sky had paled to ordinary. Nature changes every moment. In trying to anchor the miracle of that sky in a photo, I almost missed the moment itself.

It’s all about movement. Ben Zander demonstrates this idea of movement most beautifully – and comedically – in his earliest TED Talk, where he plays Mozart and Chopin on the piano – have a look!

Perhaps the most damaging element of stuckness is stories. We are so practised in making sense of our lives through the negative stories we tell ourselves over and over again. We fix our past to make our story publically consumable – even at the expense of our wellbeing. I failed at this because of that. I can’t run because I have weak ankles. Why not instead, I have weak ankles because I don’t run? Is that any less true?

Equilibrium

I read an interesting interview with John Gray this morning, celebrating the publication of his latest book, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life. Cats, says Gray, “naturally revert to equilibrium whenever they’re not hungry or threatened.” They don’t live in an imagined future.

If you know cats, you’ll recognise their “is-ness”. When a cat is paused ready to pounce, it’s supremely in that moment. When it stretches luxuriantly in the sun, it’s in that moment. Nowhere else. There.

(See my Cat Repose Practice below)

What is fear, what is anxiety, if not living in an imagined future? So I’d say, let’s find examples of now, right now, today, now. For example, as I wrote “now” – just now – the sun broke through – absolutely true – and there it was. Wow. Which suddenly switches on a poem in my brain. Not the first time I’ve quoted R S Thomas, but here it is again:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Everyday miracles are all around, so let’s keep our eyes and ears open, and pop them in our pocket like pennies in the bank, as we keep moving.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Judy

Also:

Breathe Like a Cat in Repose

This practice comes from my newest book, The Art of Communication

Picture a cat resting in a warm sunny spot, looking
comfortable and relaxed with its body stretched
out. See how its whole body rises and falls with the breath.
For this exercise, lie stretched out in a comfortable warm
place. Feel open and relaxed. Imagine you are that cat in the
sunshine, enjoying the beautiful relaxation of your whole
body and the gentle rise and fall of your breath – nothing
to do, nowhere to go, just the pleasure of this luxurious
moment and the feeling of effortless flowing movement.
The breath comes into your body like a caress. It might even
make you smile. It’s amazing how little you need to do to
breathe fully.

My TEDx Talk 

How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say

How can you engage with people if you aren’t expressing in your voice what you want to convey? Talking at each other is NOT communication! When you and your voice are one, ah, then you connect powerfully.

Coaching in 2020

Most coaches are used to telephone and video coaching and know how well it works. Without leaving your own home you can engage a coach and grow into a more confident and capable person for your career and relationships. You don’t need to be at a particular level professionally or even have a job to seek out a coach. Coaching takes you where you are at and gives you more self-assurance and sense of being the person you were meant to be.  Don’t hang back because you’re not sure if it’s for you. I can’t think of anyone it doesn’t benefit. If you want an informal chat to find out more, get in touch with me initially at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Simple short ecourses

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone).

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation
How to Raise Your Profile

Talks

Let me know if you’d like me to give a talk to your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership, or a subject to decide between us. Contact me in the first instance at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

My Books

The Art of Communication
You’ll find my latest book especially helpful if you want to find ways to be more real in your connection with others. We live in times where “living the image” has become endemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is true for our relations with people close to us just as much as for solving the world’s ills.

The Art of Conversation
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

A Different Kind of Unmasking

Well, there’s more than one kind of mask

The Grand High Witch from “The Witches” by Roald Dahl. Image by Quentin Blake

The Grand High Witch from “The Witches” by Roald Dahl. Image by Quentin Blake

During the recent uprising against Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, following rigged elections, the police and other military and KGB officers attacked protesters with extreme violence, hiding their identities behind masks or balaclavas. But protesters discovered whenever they swarmed around an officer and pulled off his mask, he raised his hands to hide his face and backed off or ran away, suddenly vulnerable. A surprisingly successful strategy.

One of the advantages of a mask is definitely anonymity. But I’m not talking here about balaclavas, nor the variety of mask that hooks easily around the ears and which continues to be such a divisive subject in the current pandemic. I mean the kind of mask that people wear when they try to convince people that they’re something they’re not. It protects their vulnerability and hides their villainy just as surely as a balaclava – which reminds me that the most scary moment of any children’s film for me is the moment in Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” when the Grand High Witch takes her hands to her face and peels off her actual beautiful lady face to reveal a dreadful witch underneath. Horror! And what an useful early lesson – people aren’t always what they seem …  The jolly japer maybe isn’t joking inside …

The masks we wear

We all wear a mask sometimes, it’s almost part of the social contract. Your bright good morning as you appear in the conference call in the morning masking that groggy feeling after a bad night … Your happy phone chat with a friend, skating along the surface of your lives, carefully avoiding any mention of either Covit or Brexid – subjects (or is it now a single subject?) of deep disagreement… Only a dreary flatness after the call reminds you that you were indeed wearing a mask.

I’d like to unmask people sometimes, and I’m sure you would too. You know – the colleague being so especially friendly, keeping you engaged long enough for you to feel relief that she has no ulterior agenda, until suddenly she has, asking a favour of you that she knows you won’t wish to grant – which you do then grant, how could you not, she was being so nice? But now you feel used and want to peel off her pleasant mask to reveal the calculating face underneath.

Or, the Zoom call: you look around the grid at those faces. The speaker drones pitilessly and pointlessly on, and you’re all in a goldfish bowl, frontal-view-visible, so no one looks bored exactly; most mouths are stretched slightly outwards to give a bland pleasant stare like so many Barbie dolls – and Kens. See there that slight mew of a mouth masking a yawn. Rip the masks off and you’d discover boredom and irritation.

Don’t mention TV, radio, media news! Masks, everywhere masks, sometimes impressively so. How does that politician make that statement with a straight face when we have only to tap the internet for 20 seconds to have visible auditory proof that he (yes, ok, she too) said precisely the opposite last week with equal emphasis? Wow, that’s quite something! How does he prevent himself breaking out into a guffaw – “Ha! Only kidding!”?

We all hate to be unmasked. But, equally, we all hide bits of ourselves – in particular situations or even all the time. If we inhabit our mask more and more, it gradually becomes who we are. Many people in public life have worn a particular mask for most of their lives. No wonder it’s so easy to create “spitting images” of such people – they are already caricatures of themselves in daylight hours. But beware; in the dark of the night, waking at 3 AM, they, like us, are unmasked and naked for a while, and look life in the face. Oh, those uncomfortable scary hours of darkness!

Unmasking

Evolving as a human being is always about unmasking, about getting to know the truth of yourself, so that you cease to be divided against the self (no more 3 AM terrors) and become an integrated being, at ease in your own skin. It would be good if it were a case of peeling off the mask and voilà, there’s the beautiful you. It’s usually a little more involved than that. You often have to peel off several layers, before you find the beauty that lies underneath. That person who has the simpering smile and sugary voice of someone eager to please – the layer below shows itself to be jealousy and resentment. (Oh, tempting to ask for the sugary personality back!) But you peel again and find huge sadness. The sadness, once acknowledged, reveals calm, and within the calm rests the seed of possibility, which now with light shed upon it begins joyfully to grow and brighten …

Once you reveal that seed, the world can’t scare you in the same way as before. The truth of every human is this centre, this pearl of great price within.

Look around you, and you’ll begin to wonder what’s behind the masks. But you’re probably not going to go around trying to unpeel layers off your boss, clients, children and public monsters at every turn. However, that instinct to look behind and beneath is a good one. It’s certainly a good remedy for anger in these angry times. For example, once you see through the nauseating swagger of a person who wields power unscrupulously to the small child within seeking attention, your anger becomes redundant, and so no longer gets in the way of your taking whatever effective action you can to counter the harm they are causing. Anger is great at throwing up a problem, but not wanted in your move to action.

Seeing beyond the masks you begin to see more in people’s eyes, to hear more in their voice, and to intuit beyond what they present. Yes, people reveal inadequacies to you; but more often they offer you a mask to convince you that they’re more amazing than they actually believe they are, and you have to peer through their obfuscation and the “I’m amazing” image to glimpse the seed of possibility beneath– which is definitely, not merely possibly, there.

Important? Yes, hugely. There was never a time with more manipulation and dishonesty than ours; we owe it to ourselves and to the planet not to believe the stories a mask tells. Idealistic? I don’t think so. Treat people as if they are more than their presenting mask, and they begin to show us more. That’s a plain truth. And (speaking to myself for one), much more interesting and effective than getting angry. :-)

 

What else?

My TEDx Talk has a complementary theme

Judy Apps: How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say

A book for our times

Have a look for John McConnell’s new book, Breaking Through The Darkness: How to defeat depression, anxiety or stress – a spiritual perspective. Perfectly timed for this period when so many people are feeling darkness. It’s clear, helpful and hope shines out of it – a lifeline for our times.

Coaching

Coaching is like going for anything you want to be good at – golf, painting, playing the piano, creative writing, football, getting fit, dressing well – leadership, parenting, relationships. There are ways to make your progress faster and more rewarding, there are ways to overcome whatever blocks you, whatever that is. In the relationship of coaching, you discover what those are for you. It’s an accessible flexible process, by telephone or video call in your own home, and if you’re not familiar with it, you will be amazed the possibilities that open up even in a single hour. If you’ve ever considered coaching, but haven’t yet dipped your toe in the water, go for it! Now is the time.

My books

9780857088079

THe Art of Communication
The Art of Communication is for anyone who senses that they could be communicating on a deeper level. Perhaps you are a confident communicator but suspect there may be more to the art of conversation that you have not yet been able to access. Or perhaps you feel that your conversations lack depth and meaning and that you’d like to enrich your relationships with others, if only you knew how. This book will address your concerns and show you how to engage wholeheartedly with others.

 

The Art of Conversation41JBLVRdFwL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

 

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms512Xx6X0bkL
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

 

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies51odzkFJnLL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

 

 

Voice of Influence411GybmszrL._SY346_
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

 

A poem for nights when you are awake at 3 AM
and other dark times

When Despair for the World Grows in Me

by Wendell Berry, living American writer
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Sending you all love and hope.

Judy

My new ‘guru’ … well, I don’t believe in gurus

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Is “walking the talk” all it’s cracked up to be?

What is excellent leadership really made of?

I don’t even believe in gurus, but here’s my new one

There’s a well-used tiny book my mother-in-law kept by her bed in her last days that has now come to us. It measures about the same as an old iphone and is covered in scuffed leather, the spine broken, with a faded title embossed in the leather:

THE MEDITATIONS OF MARCVS AVRELIVS.

The Meditations is a kind of manual on how to live (and die) as a fine human being, written by a world leader. (See quotes for a flavour.) Marcus Aurelius, 121 – 180 CE, was born into a patrician family, and eventually became Roman Emperor, ruler over 60-70 million people from the Middle East to Britain. He was also well-known as a philosopher. I find what he says highly relevant today.

This edition was published in 1899, so clearly wasn’t new to my mother-in-law. From time to time, I leaf through it or allow it to open randomly to read a page. Today, I started from the beginning. Book 1 plunges straight in with no preamble:

“From my grandfather Verus, a good disposition and control of my temper.”

“From my mother, respect for religion, and a love of liberality; and the habit not only of checking evil actions, but also of repressing evil thoughts. From her, also, a simple way of living, and avoidance of luxury.”

In the next 19 pages, in considerable detail, Marcus Aurelius lists positive traits, attributes and values he has received from his family, tutors, friends and other people in his life. Don’t you think it’s remarkable – odd even, for a world leader – to start with 19 pages of gratitude?

I thought I’d have a go myself. Once I begin to remember how good fortune has come to me, it’s uncanny: every time I come across something that I think I achieved on my own, I find it’s never so. Indeed, there’s invariably a whole chain of different instances of ­­­­­help I’ve received on the way.

For instance, I was hugely proud of winning one of only two scholarships to an excellent private high school, after performing particularly well in the 11 plus exam. But I was really practised in intelligence tests, having spent 2 years in the top year of my junior Catholic school practising them day after day. My parents thought of that school because my aunt was dancing teacher there. They couldn’t afford it – but a wealthy great aunt offered to pay. I had 2 years in the top class because I was so young that the head teacher advised my parents to keep me at junior school an extra year. I was young for my year because my mother had taught me to read fluently before I ever went to school. I was quick with arithmetic because my father would play endless mathematical games with us when we were small.

And so it continues. I can take any personal achievement, throughout my life and find a chain of interventions from others that helped it to come about. In fact, for later achievements the chain gets longer and the serendipities ever more crucial. It certainly puts things in perspective.

I’m sure you have your own stories. Try it.

I’m thinking about it today, because one of the gifts of gratitude – apart from making you feel good  – is the way in which it makes other people more real for you. Gratitude is a reckoning but it’s also a feeling; and you cannot feel gratitude to another human being without catching their humanity. When I feel grateful to the postman for bringing me a wanted parcel, I acknowledge his reality – today it’s the reality that he’s tramping the streets, 8 or more miles a day, in temperatures of 34° to bring the post.

If, on the other hand, you think or pretend that you’ve achieved everything on your own, you neglect the people who are part of your story. Eventually, you actually believe that you got your prestigious well-paid job entirely on merit, forgetting early comfort and advantage, financial or other support, superior private education, connections to powerful people and much else. You forget. Neglecting the relevance of others leads irrevocably to cruelty. If you don’t even notice the mouse, how are you going to realise your foot is on its neck? I wonder idly if any of our classically trained political leaders today have come across Marcus Aurelius at all?

The ancient Greeks – classical education again – tell of the Lethe, river of oblivion, that brings you forgetfulness if you drink of it. Their word letheia means oblivion or forgetfulness. We live in forgetful times, I think.

But they also have a word with the opposite meaning. A-letheia means unforgetfulness, unconcealment – everything laid out in the open – and this is their word for truth.

I really like this definition of truth. The best leaders don’t forget; they don’t conceal. They don’t stand higher than everyone else thinking only of themselves, forgetting connection. No, they see cause and effect laid out in the open; they remember, they see people.

My daughter, as a child violinist, was asked to play viola in the National Children’s Orchestra. She found she loved it. The viola doesn’t usually get a star role; it’s neither the highest string instrument not the lowest; its tone is mellow. She explained her delight. The viola is right in the middle of the harmony, so really matters, and as a viola player you feel the wonderful sensation of bringing the harmony together with the sounds you make. You matter hugely, but your contribution is largely unnoticed until it’s absent.

I think great leaders have that. They matter hugely, but they don’t stand at the front like a peacock, primping and strutting their stuff, bending their small head decorated with a shock of beautiful hair with little knowledge of anything beyond their own superiority (and then leaving the female to get on with building the nest). On the contrary; they’re in the middle of everything that happens, their finger on the pulse. They have an acute sense of the whole, and they value contribution – they know gratitude.

When you notice any enterprise working well in this life, look out for the viola player, that person without whom nothing happens. It isn’t always instantly obvious. Ask yourself, who is the linch pin? For sure, they won’t be sitting in luxury on the top floor or constantly seeking the limelight. You’ll find them down where people are, validating, encouraging, bringing people together to achieve, and inspiring connection and gratitude.

– which of course is where I started.

Go well!
Judy

Plus

My Books

The Art of Conversation (2014) has sold many more copies so far than The Art of Communication (2019), but to my mind The Art of Communication is many ways the more exciting book. If you have come across both, tell me what you think.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms will still hit the spot if you are looking for ways to overcome performance nerves, shyness, timidity, awkwardness, stage fright … you know, all that stuff that none of us is really immune to.

Not forgetting: Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies, the best book for dipping into to solve vocal issues.

And Voice of Influence, my first and fundamental statement of what I’m about – how to find your own voice and use it to influence those around you.

Coaching

This year of uncertainty is a great time for coaching. You don’t need to be at a particular level professionally or even have a job to seek out a coach. Coaching takes you where you are at and gives you more confidence and sense of being the person you were meant to be.  Don’t hang back because you’re not sure if it’s for you. I can scarcely think of anyone it doesn’t benefit. If you want an informal chat to find out more, get in touch with me at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Talks

Email me at  judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk if you’d like me to give a talk or run a workshop in your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership or the subject of any of my books. I’d be delighted to discuss options with you.

 

 

 

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

Question+everything_c61372_4372075This fine summer continues. And I’m feeling out of control. With coronavirus here to stay and immunity probably short-lived… With climate creeping towards the cataclysm… With the state of the country – What can I do? Vote? My constituency’s been the same since 1950… With all the lies… a few minutes checking proves them to be lies. Why aren’t we all calling them out? Why do they get away with it?

I’m asking myself this last question as I listen to the podcast of Greta Thunberg (Summer with Greta) describing the tumultuous past year of her life. And then she says, in her perfectly enunciated English,

“If I’ve learned anything in my travels around the world, it’s that the level of knowledge is almost non-existent.”

I think to myself, “That’s it. We don’t question things anymore. Or perhaps our education doesn’t teach us to question things anymore?”

When I lived in Rome, someone told me that Italian security devices were always trialled in Naples first, as that city was so full of rogues that if anyone anywhere could break a lock, a Neapolitan could. If a device passed that hardest of tests, it was considered secure.

Good story, and I like the strategy. When I look at school teaching through this prism, I find that the whole notion of teaching children facts lacks rigor. Who tests the facts? Shouldn’t we be teaching children, Naples-style, how to test the veracity of what they are taught? (I know – against all the odds, good teachers still manage to do that). Moreover, outside school, all over the world, isn’t that what we all need now? – desperately? If ever there were a time …

Recipe for trouble? Clearly; but even so … I propose a curriculum subject called: Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

(First, what a delightful word, scepticism: one hard c and one soft c, both followed by e or i: bang goes a spelling rule straightaway, how satisfying.)  First lesson can be about the limitations of facts and rules – they all have limitations.

My own education was full of rules and facts. My Oxbridge-educated history teacher taught us to make notes, precise and numbered just the way she spoke it. E.g. “There were 4 reasons for the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession: first …  second …”, all cut and dried. It was a bit like the 1930s book, 1066 and All That by W C Sellar, (brilliantly ironic but that’s another story), which classifies events as “a Good Thing” or “a Bad Thing” – just so as you know.

This describes fairly accurately Michael Gove’s approach as Education Secretary in 2011. Gove said he wanted more “facts” in England’s national curriculum – by which he meant an unironic 1066 version of monarchs, generals, wars and empire (benevolent, British). He also wanted to pin down language with factual labels such as modal verbs and fronted adverbials. (Not sure of the precise denotation of the latter, dear reader?  It’s “a word or phrase used, like an adverb, in the front of the verb or clause” as for instance, Unfortunately…,  or, Yesterday…. Glad we cleared that up – it’s still in the Primary school curriculum).

So, back to my new school course on Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism. Here are 5 simple principles to start us off:

  1. Quietly question all rules. Be sceptical about ALL facts!

Before later revisions of the curriculum, children were actually encouraged for a few years to undertake detective work in history learning and examine source materials. What a brilliant innovation to teach children to ask, “Who says so?”! Better still to follow up with “And what axe had they to grind?” but one step at a time.

History: from 1066 and All That:

“Henry VII was very good at answering the Irish Question, and made a Law called Poyning’s Law by which the Irish could have a Parliament of their own, but the English were to pass all the Acts in it. This was obviously a very Good Thing.”

“Miss, who says so.”

“Oh, er, well, the English I suppose.”

“The Roman Conquest was, however, a Good Thing, since the Britons were only natives at that time.”

“Who says so, Miss? Am I only a native, Miss?”

“The Romans said so. That’s it. No more questions.”

English:

“So, children, yesterday, – which is an example of a fronted adverbial …”

Interruption: “Miss, who says so?”

“Oh, er… well, I believe it might have been Mr Gove … or maybe Mr Rees Mogg …
oh I don’t know!  Right, that’s it. Back to the old curriculum …”

The “Who says so?” approach might then develop into learning about bias – in grown-up terms “prejudiced opinion,” “one-sided point of view,” and “specific inclination.” Later in the curriculum this would lead to discussion of unconscious bias, justice, equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion – wouldn’t that be something?

  1. Realise that huge numbers of people can be wrong all at the same time.

Flat earthers; wearers of Elizabethan (Elizabeth I) cosmetics (white lead is sooo good – who knew it killed you?!); voters for Hitler and other conscienceless demigods since; the millions of followers of all religions that aren’t your own true religion if you have one; climate emergency deniers; people who think coronavirus is over (Bournemouth Beach was sooo good – who knew it killed you?!); people who sit down with calorific beverages and watch people running about with a ball instead of running about with a ball themselves (sorry, delete the last) …

Realise that weight of numbers of itself never makes something right or wise.

  1. Understand that facts depend on your perspective

Example of male perspective:

The sleeping tablet Ambien is one of the most commonly used insomnia and jet lag treatments in the world. Yet a decade or so after its approval, reports emerged in 2013 that women taking the recommended dose were behaving bizarrely or having accidents. They discovered that the recommended dosage was based on men and was double what it should be and actually dangerous for women. This situation is still mirrored in numerous pharmeceuticals today. Who knew?

Examples of wealth perspective:

“Lockdown: just stay in your house, walk in your garden and enjoy life at home with some exercise in your local park or countryside.”
Hmm, excuse me – two bedroomed 24th floor flat in city suburb, no garden, gig economy sporadically employed partner, 3 children of different ages to home school, no computers, precious little money coming in, eviction imminent, food cupboard bare? … who knew?

Find out exactly who is stating the fact, and what their interest might be in the matter.

  1. Realise that a fact always omits more than it tells you.

Do you remember the positive comments phase in primary schools a while ago, when teachers were strongly encouraged to write only positive statements in children’s reports? Facts maybe, but not very enlightening. Parents who wanted to pick up anything useful had to learn the art of reading between the lines. After a while, it became perfectly clear to everyone that, “Johnnie sometimes cooperates with other children on tasks” meant “Johnnie is a pain in the neck, and catastrophically disrupts lessons 99% of the time.”

With similar reasoning we might state confidently that, “Edward Colston (of the famous statue) beneficently endowed schools, alms-houses and hospitals in Bristol. This was a good thing.” And a fact, as far as that goes. But, as we now know too well, it is far from the whole story of that buyer and seller of slaves, so far-from, you would say, as to constitute an outrageous lie about who he really was.

Many “facts” are extremely slippery. A fact never tells the whole story.

  1. Get one step ahead of other people’s dishonest tricks

In The Art of Always Being Right, or 38 Ways to Win an Argument written 125 years ago, Arthur Schopenhauer collected dishonest tricks debaters use and explained how they worked. It’s partly the art of logic, but also understanding how to deal with obfuscation, diversion, full frontal attack and shamelessness. It’s a gold mine if you want to win arguments AND if you want ways to counter people who use dirty tricks in debate.

For example, trick 2: “Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his or her argument.”

One of many subterfuges used by the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum was always to refer to an invented word “Brexit”, instead of talking about the act of leaving the EU. Once you have an abstract term it can mean what you want it to mean, and you can change the meaning mid-sentence in an argument. “Brexit” has worn thousands of different hats in the past 4 years! Thus, the hidden joke of “Brexit [what you think it means] means Brexit [what I think it means!]”. You can even use sleight of hand to “get Brexit done”.

Here’s the whole list of Schopenhauer’s stratagems if you’re interested. Such tricks are employed by politicians and business people all over the world – it’s a great list to study if you wish to survive the next decade! You could of course, heaven forfend, study it to become the next populist leader; but I hope you will see it as a powerful tool for countering attacks on the public good.

My hope

Imagine a future where young people grow up with greater understanding of how things work, where it is much harder to hypnotise them with parseltongue. Where they can’t be manipulated with hate campaigns, false bogeymen such as immigrants or false gods such as fool’s gold or populist ‘saviours’. Where they appreciate the subtle hinterland of “facts”. Where they understand humour, irony and speaking between the lines. Where they are able to hear falsehood in a tone of voice and feel truths that are unsayable. Essential for the highest leadership too. Now there’s an education! There’s some hope for humanity!

My facts? Your facts? Pouf! Nonsense!  To quote Einstein (as always),

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.

I’m sure the remarkable Greta Thunberg would agree.

Warm good wishes to all,

Judy

 

Plus

Time to blow my own trumpet – was in lockdown for too long!

Just heard, my book The Voice of Influence is being translated into Arabic – to be published after Christmas. So that’s 11 languages now.

Recent email to me from someone who read The Art of Conversation in lockdown:

“Your book ‘The Art of Conversation’ is really great – warm, accepting, celebrating the possibilities of conversation, realistic about challenges, but also giving easy and fun exercises, pointing the way towards practice and skill.  So many thanks. I have never written to an author to thank them for their book before – you are the first!”

I’m on a roll! A colleague in Canada sent me this on my TEDx talk:

“I watched the video of your TED talk with enormous admiration. It was superb as to both content and delivery. I believe in your message about the benefits of speaking in your real voice but it’s a risky thing to do. It takes courage because you become vulnerable and that’s too scary for many people. I think it’s well worth the risk because that’s the only way one can really reach people, – along with listening with empathy to what they have to say in response.”

Finally, Tim Salau’s My Weekend Read:

The Art Of Communication [my most recent book]. Here’s some of the things you’ll appreciate about this book: ~ Whole-Mind listening: Listening with both your left and right-hemispheres of the brain to capture emotional depth, tone of voice, and other specifics. ~ How to guide a conversation: Even unexpected conversations can lead to powerful realizations. ~ The power of vulnerability in conversation. It’s a strength and a sign of trust. Dear product manager, add this to your COVID-19 reading list!👍🏾 Thank you, Judy Apps♥️

Okay, I don’t do this very often. Just now and then!

Coaching

This year of uncertainty is a great time for coaching. Coaching is for those who are so full of promise that they deserve help to fly high. It’s also for those who are struggling. It’s for leaders who are senior enough to be isolated, and for those who are just stepping into new roles. It’s for business success; it’s for personal relationships. So don’t hang back because you think you’re not quite the kind of person who has coaching. It’s more than likely that you’re exactly  the kind of person who will benefit. If you want to talk to me about it, get in touch at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Talks

Let me know if you’d like me to give a talk to your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership, or a subject to decide between us. Contact me in the first instance at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Doubt’s Uncomfortable, but Certainty’s Ridiculous

Screenshot 2020-06-16 at 09.52.59Do you find it easy to be certain? Or have you sometimes wished you were one of those people who is certain about their views and beliefs? What about now? Surely now?

I have craved certainty from time to time. For example, I was once a regular church goer. Then I wasn’t, but continued to envy those who were certain about their faith, who could enjoy the comfort of belonging to a community of people with like-minded beliefs.

Voltaire had thoughts on the subject:

Doubt isn’t a very comfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

Sounds like the subject for a debate …

Certainty and Debate

To debate is to practise the art of certainty. You decide a ‘side’ – there’s your certainty – and then you marshal arguments both to support your case and to destroy the arguments of the other side. As far as I understand it, a barrister does much the same. As a prosecution or a defence lawyer – with your ‘side’ established a priori – you construct arguments to support your case and find flaws in the opposing side’s case. Success is measured by your ability to marshal arguments in defence of your cause sufficient to win support for it.

The art of debate is a subject that I understand is addressed more comprehensively in the hallowed halls of Eton or Westminster than in our state schools. So it would have been a natural process for Eton-educated Boris Johnson to compose convincing articles both for and against Brexit before choosing which side to back in 2016. It must have come easily to use his natural debater’s flair and vigour to support a case with unflagging certainty and, like others, he has shown chameleon skill in this art many times as a journalist over the years.

What does the debater do? – look at an opponent’s arguments maybe, but only in order to defeat them. It’s not a search for truth; the speaker is never influenced by opposing arguments; it’s always a battle, us against them.

This ‘debate’ method spills over into media interviews, as I describe in The Art of Communication: “Most conversations on TV and radio news are set up as interchanges between people with fixed opposing points of view, for example an argument for something and an argument against, with a facilitator intent on keeping the argument polarised.” The idea is that this makes for more lively television or radio. Often it does, but always at the expense of subtlety and intelligence. And deeper truth, I would say.

Social media and algorithms also hugely encourage the taking of sides, by driving us through our preferences into silos where we all think the same as each other. Our choice of news channels does the same. This contributes enormously to the building of tribes, where we naturally agree with everything our tribe stands for on a myriad of issues instead of thinking each issue out for ourselves. A supporter of a political party becomes like the football fan who proclaims, “The team’s the thing. I’m loyal to you through thick and thin, be you the best, be you the worst, tell me what to think, I’m your loyal base.” Loyalty becomes certainty.

But surely, if ever there were a time for certainty, this is it? You can’t shilly-shally in a pandemic; life and death decisions have to be made; people need clear instructions. Populations have always wanted strong leaders, and in times of danger and uncertainty, the desire for strong leadership increases. What is “strong”? Many would say it’s being certain and not changing your mind.

But wait, what about the science?

Science and Certainty

In this time of coronavirus, we are all talking about the (weird definite article) science. Science is admired by many because it deals with certainties.

But science isn’t certain, far from it. As theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli says,

“Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only is it not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it.” The New Republic, 11/7/14.

Or, to quote the example I give in my book:

Nobel Prize winner, physicist Richard Feynman, considered one of the best scientific minds since Albert Einstein, confided in a BBC Horizon interview that he was content to live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. He thought it was more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong, and that it was important for scientists ‘to leave the door to the unknown ajar’.

And, the chapter continued, “It’s not a recipe for paralysis, merely a willingness to continue without an insistence on certainty.”  The scientist doesn’t mind saying “I don’t know” when that is the truth. “I don’t know” is sometimes wisdom. Pretending to know everything is absurd.

Certainty and Politicians

Coming back to leaders, they may or may not “leave the door to the unknown ajar”; but making firm decisions is certainly an essential part of their business. Jacinta Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, manages the conundrum so well. It takes a subtle brain to make space for doubt. She doesn’t pretend that answers are easy. She shares doubt. And then she makes clear decisions. That is, she doesn’t adopt a position and then summon ‘facts’ to back it up, like someone in a debating chamber. She certainly doesn’t create additional ‘facts’ to support a position when it seems to be crumbling. (Nor indeed does she employ certainty as if talking to nursery school children.)  On the contrary, like a scientist (but a scientist with empathy, hurray!), she shares the facts, and then elegantly makes decisions.

There is all the difference in the world between these approaches. A leader has to make decisions of course. But that’s not the same thing as claiming certainty. Ardern’s way, “leaving the door to the unknown ajar”, allows for change when facts change; it acknowledges the complexity of issues. It enables truth, and therefore avoids the necessity of hiding behind obfuscation and bluster.

Lessons for me

One learning for me in all this is that putting an emphasis on ‘certainty’ is to look in the wrong place. Here’s another bit from The Art of Communication, from the chapter on Wholeheartedness:

An acceptance of uncertainty allows us to adopt more subtle positions, such as the paradox of holding both opposing perspectives to be true or recognising the possibility of synergy between differing arguments. In conversation either/or will give you one kind of exchange; both/and will give you other more interesting and surprising encounters. The synthesis of opposites is a powerful force. …

Control [needing to be certain] can only hold a view that excludes its opposite. It can lead me to talk with only my own interest at heart, and therefore deprive you of yours, or to assert that I’m right and therefore know that you’re wrong; or to speak with the aim of gain for me and loss for you; or to speak “for your own good” rather than work with you. Control in its lack of flexibility tends to create opposition. Holding different perspectives at the same time on the other hand allows something entirely new to emerge. As Hamlet said to Horatio, ‘There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Wholeheartedness is free from control. When I’m wholehearted I give myself permission to be spontaneous, natural, honest and free of forceful striving. … When I accept uncertainty, insecurity vanishes, and so I’m free.

My final thought is that we could do a lot worse than to learn from Jacinta Ardern.

My thoughts go out to you as we stay the course in our different ways.
Go well,

Judy

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.” Buddha

And…

The Art of Communication

I’ve quoted from my latest book above. It’s already a year old, yet I think it speaks to our times more than ever. It’s available as book, ebook or audio-book (though I wish I could have read my own book!) and the prices are good at the moment.

You can find all my books here on Good Reads. Maybe, buy here at Hive, which contributes to local book stores.

Coaching

Get in touch if you would like to consider a few sessions (or a single session!) of coaching by Skype, telephone, Whatsapp etc.  There are so many issues coming up for people at the moment. You may find the presence of a listening ear that helps you to think more clearly and handle your emotions more successfully is just what you need to move forward more positively and confidently. Coaching can be simple, powerful and amazingly effective. To contact me, try email first: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

 

 

 

From Lies and Disasters to Small Vital Truths

The-Summer-Day-600x350Musings in Solitary

How are you? Some people get increasingly distressed about the state of the world, others find inner calm.

I’m a grasshopper, sometimes I hop to one, sometimes the other. (Can a grasshopper find inner calm, hmm?)

It seems amazing to me how the mind can leap in an instant from staring into the abyss of planetary disaster to personal micro moments of joy. (And back again.) But that’s how it is for me at the moment. Are you sometimes like that too?

For me, it’s like this:

The book

With time for reading and good intention, I decided to buy a hefty “something worth reading”, which turned up last week. It’s The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. Written in 1859, it invites a slower reading pace than modern novels, with room for discussion  and contemplation in its 900 pages. And so, quite early on, (okay, I’m only a bare one centimetre through an eight-centimetre pleasure, as the Very Hungry Caterpillar might put it) I came upon this passage, which made me go, “wow, that’s it” and set me off on a train of thought.

51oER7psoDL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill – he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.”

The lies

Quite apart from reminding me of a couple of public figures (you too?) and unsettling me with its last phrase, it strikes me as a devastatingly accurate description not only of individuals but of our post-truth (=lying) age.

That got me on to musing that I spot lies more easily in these days of coronavirus. I’m certainly examining my own contradictions more (“the man who lies to himself”); but it’s outside stuff too, like one big hairy lie underlying everything. Who knew that our nation’s normal was so corroded? Who knew till now that caring on your own at home for someone with advanced dementia or a severely disabled child was so impossibly hard? Who knew that migrant health workers have to pay hundreds to pounds per year to access the NHS!? Who knew that people who whistle-blew about dangerous working conditions would lose their jobs? Who knew really that so many children are starving … well we knew and we didn’t know … oh so many things in our beautiful country – the 5th richest country in the world, by the way. No, really, the FIFTH richest country in the world.  I thought to myself, I don’t want to remain in ignorance. I want to know properly, genuinely, how things are in this lovely country of mine.

The global catastrophes

By now, I was on a roll. Why stop at the UK? I know the planet is in a bad way, climate emergency, biodiversity crisis, water shortages, mass people movements, war, famine – how could I not? But now …? Now I have time.  I read and watch the physicist and social activist Vandana Shiva (various great videos on YouTube), who describes a cogent pattern of economic genocide and ecocide, where a couple of asset management funds grow by a trillion dollars each a year (the USA as a whole grows by less), and the 5 richest men earn more than the total amount earned by half the world’s population; and the world’s commons, all that was once healthy and free, from water and air to seeds and land is privatised, stolen, polluted or damaged, necessitating ever more poison, pharma, oil, war, which creates more climate and biodiversity destruction, necessitating in its turn more poison, pharma, oil, war …. and certain forces grown powerful through plunder find agents to deliver lying hate messages that manipulate us to attack the wrong targets, i.e. people – blacks, Muslims, immigrants, women – and thus to elect unsuitable leaders who continue the devastating cycle; this idiocy precluding any rescue from the global challenge of climate breakdown, which is set to make vast areas of India, Africa and Australia too hot for human life within little more than a decade and cause mass migration on a scale far in excess of what we’ve seen to date, with the grim realisation that attempts to solve migration issues haven’t gone too well so far… . (Is that a long enough sentence for you, Dostoevsky?!)

Coronavirus is like the next act in a cosmic joke isn’t it? Okay, says the Almighty: I’ve sent tornados, I’ve sent droughts and floods and fires and plagues of locusts. When are you going to understand that the only way you’re going to solve this one is through cooperation; all other ways boomerang back to hit you.  Coronavirus spreading through Africa and Asia amongst the poor and deprived threatens all of us. Mass migration due to heat and drought affects all of us. Pollution affects all of us.  The winners don’t win here.

The beatitudes

The grasshopper hops again to remind me that I am a winner, in my comparative comfort in this lovely place, in cleaner air, this beautiful spring with the new spirit of generosity that’s abroad. I do feel grateful. I look around me, and my whole existence depends on others – house, chair, laptop, water, plumbing, electrics, waste disposal, clothes, food, deliveries, medicines, dental treatment, let alone doctors, nurses, parenting, education, relationships, kindnesses from every direction – the list could go on and on. I do feel gratitude, I do, ever more so now.

But I don’t want to ignore this global narrative anymore. The planet is in the ICU and needs our attention at this critical moment, never more than now. How can we say: “Dear grandchildren, I just let it happen?” At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to find out what is happening, sift out the truth from different sources and angles. Our Daily Rag is not enough! We need to know properly what is happening. We need to tell each other what we discover. And now is the time, before normal slides insidiously back. There are more of us that want the good of all, we are the majority. We can do something.

The joy

And we all know it really.  Clarity emerges in this quiet.  Where do clarity and truth emerge from, if not peace and quiet? As I listen to birdsong outside this early evening, there’s something else. Apart from world upheaval and our human debt … apart from THAT! … I find nothing more real or truthful than this moment here and now. They talk about one’s heart being full – I know what they mean, don’t you? Micro moments of joy.

Joy isn’t thinking; it’s a fleeting feeling, breath, pulse, vibration, a transient surge of energy that happens before verbal cognition.

That moment of loving a piece of music before you tell yourself its name.

That breath of surrender to beautiful nature just before you realise that you are finding it beautiful.

The sudden memory triggered of a special moment with a loved one now absent, before you feel the sadness of their absence.

The moment of pleasure in something you have just done, before you think about what you’ve just done.

The moment before the moment you realise that you’re smiling to yourself.

Now, when life has become less varied and less peopled for most of us, is a good time to capture those fleeting moments. They occur every day. I wonder what nano-instances of joy come into your awareness today.

If this speaks to you, I am happy. If it doesn’t, you probably haven’t read this far! I recognise that we are all in different circumstances during this epidemic. Whatever your situation, I send you warmest good wishes and hope for better things to come.

This too shall pass.

Judy

The first springtime of my life

The Thrree Witches

The Thrree Witches

I turn left out of the house, up onto the green, and then through the woods and onto the narrow road that runs by a stream where I sometimes see a heron. No one around. Quiet, unusually quiet. And the air is clean and cold, a bright April day in this first springtime of my life.

 

We’ve all been blindsided by this bolt from the blue. Those who are on the front line are perhaps busier than ever before. And those who are self-isolating – me, us – we have all the time in the world. How is it for you? I have time to write words; except with all the time in the world, words don’t come. I’ve lost the way to words that seem helpful or worth saying. Nevertheless, I’m writing at last.

For the past 3 years, I’ve been infected by a kind of obsessive angry energy with Brexit as the underlying theme. Now those voices have gone quiet, and I realise that the country itself was in a similar state, unable to look beyond the single issue. Disaster planning must have been way down the list of issues that weren’t being dealt with. Which makes this an accident waiting to happen, you might say. It certainly feels as if we’ve all suddenly woken up.

Personally, I discovered that my current isolation didn’t immediately turn me towards the pursuit of all those desires I’d never had time for before. I’ve been gardening and cleaning the house and enjoying it, but for me currently they’re merely displacement activities – a substitute for my former busy-ness. I would have imagined that with time on my hands I might have turned to painting, creative writing or music, but I haven’t, at least not yet. It’s been a step to knowing myself, to recognise that, “If I had time, I would …” wasn’t true. I got time. And I didn’t. Makes you think, doesn’t it, “If this isn’t true of me, what else?”

If anything, I’ve turned to philosophy.

Lots of little revelations. “I like clothes, but I wear them for my own pleasure” was another lie – at home now, what I wear doesn’t matter to me at all.

I discovered that I’m not quite as nice as I want to think I am. First thoughts: have we got enough food supplies? Have we got our delivery slot? Or, as they used to say on flights, “Put on your own life jacket first” Yes, I’m in that camp.

At the same time, I realise now that relationship is the only thing that matters. At 25 I wanted to achieve life goals; I did need relationships then just as much now, but I didn’t know that I did. Now I know. At the same time, I’ve blown another myth, that I’m someone who needs to be out and about and doing, meeting people, sharing experiences. Not true, I’m actually fine at home.

I’m rediscovering my good fortune, oh am I that! Are you too? – the roof over my head, the good food I eat, my family, friends, the countryside, nature, my health and strength, the internet – that magical city of libraries-learning-theatres-films-information-resources-connection in one smart phone; humour, freedom to use my imagination, the goodness of people, especially that …

I’m seeing a bit more clearly the injustices of government and systems, and what’s rotten in our country and world. I’m realising that things I thought were essential structural elements of our society are proving to be anything but. I discover that huge change can and does happen, that money becomes available when needs must. This pandemic is powerful because it doesn’t discriminate; it affects us all, so all must take heed. It makes me think that decisions about services should never be made by people who are never going to use them and so don’t care about them. When we’re in it together (not the slogan version), when we’re actually all in it together, life becomes fairer.

Lastly, like you, I’m sure, I am overwhelmed by other people in this crisis – not the random assholes, but every single person who is being generous and brave and making life possible for the rest of us. It’s so good that we can feel a different emotion for a change – sheer love and thankfulness.

 

I’ve walked a gentle circle and I come back through the wood to a glade known locally as The Three Witches, after three giant sweet-chestnut trees with their spiralling bark. I think I may be tuning in to what endures. Like love and thankfulness, they’ve been here for ever. They’ll be here after we’ve all gone. I hope they will.

 

Wishing you so well,
Judy

 

Connection …

“Not touching, still connecting” says inspirational Five Rhythms teacher Peter Wilberforce at the beginning of each of the practices he’s recording currently on Facebook. Connection is today’s thread. My last book, The Art of Communication, grappled with that theme, as did my last year’s TEDx Talk. I think I’ll be coming back to it again in the next weeks and months too.

Connection Space

I’m currently in isolation but have phone, Skype, Zoom, Facetime and email. If anyone genuinely feels they need to talk to someone, maybe I can be a listening ear? I won’t call it coaching – not quite, and I won’t charge for it. Sometimes, even a short conversation with someone creates something new. So, whether you are a coach yourself, or a friend wanting to connect, or someone looking for some which way to turn, maybe this is a connection you want to make. Connect with me here first. And many thanks to all who can do the same for me.

 

Saving the world with a bit of intuition and quite a lot of grammar

Screenshot 2020-01-09 at 17.48.27

 

How do you know what you know?

Presumably, you’ve been in the world quite a few years:

how did you learn everything that you now know?

How do you learn now?

Knowledge

When I think about how I learn now, I’m aware of how much I pick up from reading, much of it on the internet; through newspapers too – and books, lots from books…. I pick up from listening – to radio, TV, to people in my life. It’s information learning. If I trust it, I take it on board and remember it. I think I’m discerning about it.

Rumi, born 800 years before the internet, has something to say about intelligence acquired from books and from what the teacher says:

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

Experience

All good, especially if you have your eyes on success. But there’s another kind of learning that doesn’t need to be agreed with or trusted, because we experience it. Take learning to walk. Balance is something you experience. It isn’t a matter of trusting information or not. When you’re out of balance, you fall down. No one tells you what to do or what to learn in infancy in order to be able to walk. The doing is the learning. You get to know what balance feels like, and you walk. What a miracle it is to learn to walk! How many muscles do you control at the same time when you succeed in walking – 200 or so? All at the same time! Imagine working your way through a written manual, “How to Walk”! People who have to relearn in adulthood have to do the equivalent of just that. And they are much more likely to fall down and mistrust it: “Walking’s not for me any more. I don’t trust it’s possible. Might as well give up now.”

These two ways of learning carry on through life. We tend more and more to use information learning as we grow up. Most people like learning to be neat and practical:

10 ways to become a better public speaker

5 tips to guarantee success in business

10 steps to the perfect golf swing

6 vital lessons to teach your kids

Every time I work with coaches, presenters or leaders the questions are the same, “Tell me what to do in order to …” “Yes, but what should I do?” “Give me the five steps!”

Yet, in these areas, as in many others, the most important intelligence is something you already have. As Rumi describes it:

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Inside and Outside

You pick up knowledge from the outside and take it in. But this other learning arises within. What would we call this “freshness in the center of the chest” nowadays? Intuition? Instinct? It’s not book learning. I would call it feeling. It’s feeling that tells you that you are walking in balance. It’s feeling that alerts you to something amiss or an instinct to follow. Empathy is a feeling.

You can have feelings about someone.

You can have feelings for someone.

You can have feelings with someone.

You can have feelings as someone.

Ah, (to divert for a moment) these prepositions! Europeans who learn English think at first that it’s an easy language – no different genders for everything, easy plurals, easy declensions of verbs. But then they meet prepositions. They are suddenly faced with a jumble of completely different meanings all resting on the addition of a preposition to a simple verb. Consider the verb “take” followed by different prepositions:

Take off:     I took off my jeans – removed
He took off Benny Hill – imitated

Take to:      I really took to tennis – warmed to, enjoyed

Take out:    Take me out to dinner – invite me to
He took out the terrorist – killed him

Take on:     The company took him on – employed him
Don’t take on so – make such a fuss
I’ll take you on – compete with you

Take in:      I couldn’t take it in – understand it
I took him in and let him stay – gave accommodation to
I was taken in by his charm – deceived.

Take over:  He took over the world – conquered

Take after:  She takes after her mother – resembles

Take back:  I take back what I said – revoke

Take up:     I’m going to take up French – start to learn

Take off:     The plane took off – launched

Take down: Take down what I say – record
They took him down – destroyed him

Stop!! Okay, I’m getting carried away.

Back to feeling. Prepositions are at work here too.

I can feel for you, which means that I have warm feelings when I think about you. If you are distressed,

I can have feelings about your distress, which probably means that I have some intellectual understanding of what you are going through.

I can feel sympathy, which is to feel with: i.e. I feel pity with your suffering; as we read of disasters in the newspaper, our feeling is often one of sympathy.

And finally, I can feel empathy, which is to be inside your feeling, to feel what you are feeling, to feel the same distress that you feel.

Empathy

Now, to be inside someone’s feeling is something remarkable. It isn’t book learning; it’s not acquisition of knowledge, though knowledge can help. Empathy doesn’t have words, though I may decide to speak. It isn’t the same as pity, though pity may be present. It’s experiencing the same quality that you are feeling: experiencing your actual pain; experiencing your joy. It’s my heart beating with your beat; being in tune with your being; coming together with you in the place where you are now.

I can book-learn your distress. I can learn your body language, how you sound and the light in your eye when you are in a particular state, just as I can learn to speak in public by adopting particular body language, a particular tone of voice and a particular kind of eye contact. And that works, sort of.

But true empathy shortcuts all that. I just step inside you and feel what you feel and, feeling what you feel, I understand you. It’s only possible if I am thin-skinned, if I haven’t built up that armour of self-protection that most people wear. Thin skinned means vulnerable: I have to be vulnerable.

People who put intellect above feeling will say that it’s hardly helpful to feel distress at someone’s distress, as all you do is to fall into the emotional same hole as the other person. But the greatest resource of the coach, counsellor, doctor, teacher, leader or carer is to feel true empathy – to be entirely present with the other person – but without drowning in their distress: to feel their pain, and to know as you breathe and stay open that you are more than that pain and can be beside the other person holding them safe even as you feel their pain. To do that represents both an instant resource and requires a lifetime of learning.

It’s 2020, the world looks bad; now more than ever, empathy is our only possible answer. So yes, by all means, set your resolutions this year to learn the 5 important steps, maintain the 10 best ways, follow the 3 vital answers … But know too, as you know anything truly important, that you already have within you the ability to walk beside another and feel the reality of them, and that this, available to all of us now, is by far our most powerful asset going forward into 2020.

Happy New Year :-)

My TEDx Talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say”

This talk I gave a few months ago touches on similar themes. You can find it on TED.com. Please share it if you enjoy it.

The Art of Communication:
How to Be Authentic, Lead Others and Create Strong Connections

Have you dipped into my latest book? Maybe it would make a New Year present to yourself? Here’s a snippet from the final chapter on ways to be with another person.

And so it happens that one day you are talking with someone, and you become aware that you both are, in a place of betweenness. There’s no sense of doing; no one is leading; and you feel the powerful frisson of connection within that space. It’s like the relationship between a musician and her instrument. A musician never masters his instrument but joins with it. The music that results is neither musician nor instrument yet comes about because of both.

The field of awareness between you is the space where magic happens, where there is no you, no me, just the space we create together.

“The characters for “human being” in Japanese mean “person” and “between”. Thus, you as a human being exist only through your relations with others.”

My other books:

The Art of Conversation
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Did you see my article on the Art of Good Communication
in Intercontinental Finance and Law magazine?

Follow the link; then it’s on pages 12-13.

Don’t Play the Blame Game

A date for your diaries – Sunday 29th March in London: A Spirit of Coaching event, open to all coaches and those interested in coaching. Further details shortly.

Simple short ecourses

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share these with friends. Okay, knowledge learning, but useful for all that!

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation
How to Raise Your Profile

Do You Have Agency?

download

What values do you subscribe to? Do you ever write them down? We talk about values quite often in coaching. Mostly, I admire every value, even ones that I don’t hold so close to my heart. But every time I do the exercise, I realise there are one or two values I just don’t personally believe in.

One is obedience.

I like humility. I acknowledge human frailty. I like “I don’t know” as a valid response; also “you choose”. I respect the need to comply with laws. But obedience?

Imagine! This from someone who started education at a Catholic school at a young enough age according to the maxim for the Jesuits to be able to claim me as one of their own. You know: “Give me the child for the first seven years …” Obedience was a big part of the teaching in the school. I learned very well not to question what I learned but just to learn it very well.

Responsibility

But the world taught me otherwise. How can it ever be a valid response for any adult when they have committed a serious mistake to say, “I was obeying orders” or “I was doing what I was told.” It certainly wasn’t taken as a valid defence at the Nuremburg Trials after the 2nd World War. Valid in a marriage maybe, though “obey” has now largely disappeared from the woman’s promises in the Anglican Church wedding service, including at royal weddings (the Queen promised to obey Prince Phillip at their wedding but you’d think the promise must have clashed occasionally after she became Queen).

The commonest defence of the wrongdoer is “I’ve done nothing wrong,” the short cut – in the rare cases where the person actually believes their own defence – for “I was obeying orders” or “I was doing nothing actually illegal”. So that’s okay then. After all, many acts that do untold harm to human beings and the planet are not actually illegal when done in an official capacity as part of a corporation or government.

It has always struck me forcibly that if we have the gift of intelligence it is to be used. And that must mean learning to take responsibility for ourselves on the rightness or otherwise of particular actions.

That of course is how a whistle blower thinks, but the history of whistleblowing is not a happy one. Okay then, children: they must learn to obey, surely? “Yes, but …” is my answer. Osho writes in his book Intelligence (I recommend it): If my child doesn’t have a clear and unwavering “no” in his vocabulary, how can he speak out against social injustice? How can he develop an equally compelling “yes,” and know that his choices are authentically his own, that his voice is internally driven? Insistence on unwavering obedience doesn’t serve even a child well. (And thinking of children, what a wonderful example of a child using her intelligence is Greta Thunberg!)

Agency and not

There’s another thing about obedience: a life of unquestioning obedience tends to dull the soul. When work consists of doing what you’re told to do, and relationships consist of going through the paces and social activities are empty formalities, something important is missing. It’s a world of ‘it’s not allowed’, and ‘can’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘must’ and ‘ought’, and it defeats us.

Depression has many causes, but a contributory factor is often a lack of agency. When you feel that nothing you do makes a difference – your vote doesn’t count, your work achieves nothing, nothing you do changes your relationships – then you lose heart. Literally, you lose heart: your heart atrophies. Lack of agency takes the vitality from your movement and the spark from your eyes. Have a look around you. How many are walking automatons?

Alternatively, you might wake up today, and your life is the same, but you make something unexpected happen. You decide to get off your commuter train a stop early and you walk the rest of the way – it happens because you decided it – and the leaves are falling in droves from the trees and there’s a light wind whirling them into mini-storms, making them catch the light. You capture that small miracle because of something you decided, and your heartbeat quickens.

One of our most important tasks must be to reclaim that agency; there’s always something you can decide and then do. It might be tiny; it might seem the act of an idiot against the system, but you decide it and the act itself pleases you. Nelson Mandela decided to treat his prison guards with courtesy, even as they continued to maltreat him. His decision gave him agency and gave him energy and courage, even in the face of not making one jot of difference. In time, of course, it did make a difference.

It is true that sometimes there is little we can do to improve our lot, but there is always a basic question: “Do I actually want to be happy, energetic and well, or do I prefer to nurse unhappiness, resentment and illness?” There is a huge difference in spirit when you decide to have agency. Your eyes shine once more and you see the world as a different place. You cannot not affect your world when your spirit awakens.

I’ve quoted e e cummings many a time. His poem I thank You God for most this amazing includes the words:

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

and he concludes:

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e e cummings was talking of himself of course; as am I of myself. Awake, ears! Open, eyes! I hope it talks to you too :-)

Go well,

Judy

 

TEDx Talk – How Your Voice Touches Others: the true meaning of what you say

The sound of your voice conveys far more than the words alone, and not always what you might be hoping to convey. When you show up for real it’s a different story: your voice tunes into something genuine within the other person and they respond with connection and trust. If you want to solve problems today, that’s where to start.

Find the talk on TED or on YouTube, and please share it if you like it. I just loved doing it, and Norwich TEDx Ed is a fantastic event run by amazing people.

Capture the essence of successful communication.

If you enjoy the TEDx Talk, you’ll love my book The Art of Communication, which goes deeper into what allows us to connect in a profound way with each other. When we find ways to be real in our communication, unexpected possibilities arise and amazing things can and do happen. If ever there were a time …

See my other books here.

Mindfulness

Paul Meek was one of my co-black belts when I practised Aikido. Paul has practised mindfulness since a chance encounter in 1997 on a train in India with a nun who studied under the Dalia Lama. Meeting Paul, you’d be able to tell his connection with mindfulness by his quiet presence. He is author of the eBook series, The Silence Between the Noise, and shares his experience of how to establish mindfulness for greater wellbeing in his blog Establish Mindfulness.

Workshops

Get in touch for workshops on communication, leadership, voice and walking your talk, assertiveness and NLP.

Coaching

also for one-to-one coaching. I’m constantly surprised at how even one session can make such a difference to people’s confidence, decisiveness and – yes – their agency.

And, if you’re in London on Saturday, 2 November …

The Brandenburg Choral Festival is London’s biggest and broadest celebration of all things choral, bringing fantastic choirs into unique central London venues. If you’re near St. Stephen Walbrook near Bank on 2 November, come and enjoy the Harlequin Choir from Guildford in the evening (yes, my chamber choir!) You can get more information and discounted tickets on this special link.

Creeping Change

coolantarctica.om

coolantarctica.om

They say don’t trust experts.
DO trust experts

But we live in shifty times,

so it’s important to investigate,
to consult widely from different
sources of information,

And then to trust ourselves.

 

 

It was a rare treat to London, and my mother suddenly spotted a Kardomah Café across the street. “Come on,” she said. “We’re going to have Kunzle Cakes!” We settled in the café, and she ordered these famous little cakes she remembered from her childhood in the 1930s. We children enjoyed the chocolate shell with cake and light butter cream inside, but she was clearly puzzled and disappointed. They weren’t as delicious as she remembered them.

It’s easy to explain away such experiences, together with endless sunny summers, skating in winter and roaring open fires as rose-coloured childhood memories. We usually lack proof that things were as different as we imagine they were. But change for the worse does happen, as well as for the better, and all too often it happens quietly and secretly. That roast pork of my school Christmas dinner – did it really taste better than the supermarket pork of today? Well, yes it almost certainly did. Then, pigs were animals that lived outside and rooted and snuffled: now they are product subjected to growth hormones and antibiotics and often fed on same-animal waste and worse.

Or maybe I look at a newspaper that has always been highly respected, confident in the title, and ignore the fact that since the latest billionaire buy-out it is much less to be trusted. It looks the same, the subjects covered are similar, but there’s a fundamental attitude shift that’s well-disguised at first. It’s easy to miss.

In the shifting sands of our current time, it’s especially wise to be on the lookout for creeping change.

Climate and environmental change are the big ones of course. It’s 50 years since the Stanford Research Institute delivered a report warning of the devastating effects on the planet of burning fossil fuels. But who noticed? Change in those 50 years has happened one lost tree, one lost bird species, one fire, one flood, one cancer at a time. By the time we do notice, it’s too late to save everything.

They say a frog doesn’t notice it’s being boiled in a pot if you increase the temperature slowly enough. Maybe not true, but as a metaphor spot on.

Professor Diane Vaughan of Columbia University describes a process of “social normalization of deviance” where people within an organisation gradually become accustomed to increasingly deviant behaviour until it becomes the norm. Many different negative situations from institutionalised racism and inappropriate sexual attitudes to homeless people on the streets and abuse in care homes take hold through such creeping normalisation. The situation might strike someone new to the system as abhorrent, but to those inside the system it has become normal.

We are seeing a lot of “creeping change” these days. Look at how many ways we talk about it: change blindness, slippery slope, shifting baseline, moving the goalposts, salami tactics, tyranny of small decisions, …

There is one way this happens that’s particularly insidious, and that is through abstract language. Theresa May’s oft-repeated mantra, “Brexit means Brexit” is an excellent example. Abstract words have no clarity until you add descriptors. Remaining undefined, Brexit could mean whatever people wanted it to mean for the particular axe they wanted to grind, and this allowed creeping redefinition of the word. Lewis Carroll was prescient:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
from Alice Through the Looking Glass

All those Orwellian descriptors of our day! Crisis Pregnancy Centers strongly anti-abortion; The European Research Group vehemently against Britain’s membership of the EU; the American Global Climate Information Project representing the interests of producers of fossil fuels against the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions … you can easily find more examples.

The biggest and easiest trick in the book for those who engage in public debate is to argue with dexterity and flair without defining terms. It’s a skill well honed in the ancient education establishments of Britain. Freedom, fairness, economic success – here come the abstracts! Yes, yes! But freedom in what way and for whom? Economic success for whom? Fairness how and to whom? Ah, those are the questions, Humpty Dumpty. We need to get better at these questions.

Maybe one of the most useful things we can do, living in democracies yet often feeling powerless within them, is to stay awake (stay woke?) to creeping change wherever it happens. Many bold souls are doing that already and speaking up. I admire them. It’s much easier to keep your head down inside your clan, like an emperor penguin huddling in the middle of its tightly-packed group to shelter itself from the intense winds of the Antarctic.

I’m not the bold soul, not really. I do see that I’ve lived my life with a comparatively passive experience of education, hierarchy and democracy until now.  I want now to celebrate those who stand up to be counted, those who dare shine a light on injustice and silent cruelty, those who refuse to stay schtum.

It’s important too to realise that my own tightly packed group is not the universe (even if my group is not just any old penguins but Emperor penguins, you understand). It’s crucial to look beyond – stick my nose out into those intense winds of change and get the bigger picture from a wider range of information suppliers. It’s always a shock when you do: Whoa! Is this really happening? I didn’t see this coming!

“A fact is a fact because I say it is. This is a Kunzle cake.”

No it ain’t. Have a second look. Investigate further.
Let’s use our eyes and ears and, yes, our gut instinct.
Let’s trust ourselves.

Go well,

Judy

 

The Art of Communication and REQUEST

If you’ve ever worked with me or attended any of my events and got something out of it and even if you haven’t, I think you’ll really enjoy my latest book.Find more information about the book here. It’s certainly the book most close to my thoughts and beliefs. Someone emailed me yesterday and said, “I recently read your book ‘The Art of Communication’ and found it very difficult to put down once I’d started. Your book has been a total awakening for me”. Find it here where it’s priced under £8 at the moment, probably the lowest it’ll ever be.

If you have a copy, would you write a review of it on Amazon here? I and my publisher Capstone would be very grateful :-)  It could be very short! Just click on “Write a Review” below the title.

TEDx Talk

In my last newsletter, I promised to give you a link to my TEDx talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others”. I’ve been holding back this newsletter to be able to point you to it, but it’s taking longer than usual to appear on YouTube and TED.com because TED has been particularly busy with conferences this summer.  I’m told it should be up in the next week or 10 days – have a look on YouTube under TEDx Norwich 2019 or Judy Apps.

Want a few tips at home?

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share this with friends.

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation
How to Raise Your Profile

Want some help moving forward?

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype/Zoom or phone.

And for voice coaching – it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self-consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

My other books

Maybe time to put the holiday novels aside and dip into something different? How about:

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.