Is Survival of the Fittest the Only Game?

sharks

“Survival of the fittest” is proved, signed and sealed. But are we ignoring an important part of the story?

Increasingly often these days the news bulletins have me scratching my head, furrowing my brow and muttering, “What!?” Most often it’s in the area of politics. One political “what?” this week was news that senior doctors from overseas who’ve been appointed to fill key roles in over-stretched hospitals around the UK are being blocked from taking up their jobs by the Home Office because their NHS salaries are too low under immigration rules. Work that one out!

Another “What!?” was caused this morning by the excitement of BBC commentators at a demonstration of whales imitating human sounds. We already know that whales communicate in sophisticated ways with each other. So what’s so special about their ability merely to copy human sounds?

Blue Planet II was an excellent antidote to lazy human thinking. Time and again we were shown examples of underwater creatures demonstrating previously unseen behaviours of intelligence, subtlety and cooperation. Especially cooperation.

There was the clownfish, searching for a suitable surface for the female to lay her eggs, that received the assistance of his whole clownfish family to move a coconut shell into a suitable position. Different species were also observed to work regularly together. A coral trout would signal the position of likely prey to an octopus by tipping onto its head and flashing white, allowing the octopus to reach into a crevice and flush the fish out – after which either the octopus or the fish won the prey.

Blue Planet II showed behaviours never seen before in sea creatures and that was exciting. However, the commentary still expressed a kind of shock that animals could be witnessed working together at all, when we already know that animals work together. We know about lions and wolves hunting in collaboration; we know how animals stay in a family group to help raise siblings, we know about communities of bees and ants.

Is the shock because we are currently living on our planet as though survival of the fittest were the only story? It’s good to remember that even Charles Darwin wrote about cooperative and indeed loving behaviours in dogs, elephants, baboons and other species. He just concluded from this evidence that natural selection favoured groups who cooperated.

Not long after the publication of The Origin of Species, Peter Kropotkin, a Russian Prince, undertook an expedition to Siberia, and found little evidence of competitive struggle. He discovered human societies where people shared with each other and animals cooperated to find resources to survive. Where opinion was coming down heavily on the side of survival of the fittest, his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution tried to redress the balance.

I find myself wanting to do the same. Cooperation has often rung true for me. Many times career breaks have come at just those times when I was enjoying connection without thought of advantage … for example, the time I was sharing my excitement in investigating the concept of charisma with a new acquaintance – and was suddenly offered a whole series of work on charisma with the Cabinet Office … the time when I was able to help a colleague at a difficult time, and through that connection was later invited into a successful collaboration that has lasted … the time when I was bored in a conversation but decided to focus with interest on the other person and then suddenly learned something that was immensely useful to me … you’ll have your own examples.

Cooperation or survival of the fittest? Both clearly exist in nature. It’s not a question I can answer. Nevertheless, it’s a hugely important question for the world of work – for the world – if the balance today has shifted too powerfully in one direction. We still operate in a world of bonuses and competitive rewards as though they were the only game. Employees are still encouraged to see peers as competitors. Politicians all over the world are treating the survival of the planet as a survival of the fittest death game, or are merely playing an “I’m better than you”, “mine’s bigger than yours” game. Yet, sharing, creating and transferring knowledge between members of an organisation is known to be a model that works well. Shouldn’t we be exploring such options with energy or applauding those who do?

If you and I spend the rest of this week noticing examples of cooperation and applying the principles of cooperation in our work and home lives, I wonder what the results will be? I’ve a feeling we might find the experience energising and positive. If you try the experiment, let me know what happens.

Go well,

Judy

 

OTHER MATTERS

Help in my books for  communication, presenting, voice … life …

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.

Coaching

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential.  Email me or call me 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 or phone.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body. 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.

Enjoy any of my E-courses

They just pop into your in-box over 3-5 days. (I never share your email)

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

For Whom the Bell Tolls by John Donne

(familiar – and sort of topical)

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

 

“The Blackest Month”

January!

Old Man's BeardThe blackest month in all the year
Is the month of Janiveer.

The beginning of the month came and I had nothing to write, not a single idea. It’s never been like that before. Okay, I’ve had a bad cold and feel a bit strung out, but even so.

In popped a favourite gremlin – that all or nothing one. “Ah ha, that’s it, that’s the end. Good while it lasted, but you’ll never have an idea again.”

It took me a while to dispatch that gremlin, but when I did, I then reflected on what the absence of ideas was about. And I realised I felt weary:

“Too many words” was the first thing to strike me. Too much said. Too many blogs, too many articles, too many opinions, too many solutions to life’s questions, too many huge promises, too many summons with peeps and tweets and alerts – I felt tired with it all.

Too many adverts crowding the sides of my Internet pages purporting to know something about me. Too many ulterior motives – blogs posted in order to attract advertising, or to sell something.

Too many circular arguments such as “Brexit means Brexit”. Too many words distorted way beyond any sensible meaning – such as “freedom”, and “control”. Too many promises that eschew a large glaring part of the truth. Too much playing with language, like “bringing peace” through provocative acts of aggression. And little optimism on my part to do anything about any of it.

It suddenly struck me that the feeling was one of watching a theatrical production, where I was a spectator and nothing more. Several years ago, the novelist Elena Ferrante wrote in a letter to her publisher that to be an Italian in the Berlusconi years was to be like an audience rather than a citizen. Berlusconi, she said,

has completed the transformation of citizens into an audience, and is for now the most unprincipled exponent of the reduction of democracy to imaginary participation in an imaginary game. He succeeds thanks to his tendentious monopoly of the medium that best realises and imposes that suspension of disbelief.” (from Frantumaglia)

I recognise that feeling today. So what’s the answer?

I haven’t got one … or maybe just one tentative one today. After all, this world circus I’m talking about is a story, one version, chosen mainly by powerful interests, politicians and the media. It’s not the only story, and it’s certainly not a reliable one.

 

So, in the spirit of David against Goliath, here are specks of other stories:

The farmer John Leis Stempel writes about wandering as a child one day through high wheat that came as high as his armpits. (NB it’s in his beautiful book: The Running Hare). He suddenly spotted a corncrake standing silently close to him. For perhaps a tenth of a second their eyes met. The experience was so intense it was able to “expand and inform existence ever after.”

And another: Mary Oliver when she watched a white swan take off and stream across the clouds (from The Swan). “Did you see it?” she asks. “And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?”

Or myself, still a child, standing on Wittering sands at low tide one cloudy late afternoon when the wet sand reflected sea and sky, and feeling tiny, but glad to be tiny, a minute part of that immensity that stretched in every direction and tugged my heart with it.

Wordsworth wrote in The Prelude about “spots of time” that have a “renovating virtue.” What moments capture that sense of what matters for you?

A friend sent me a poem at Christmas. I’ve posted it on my website under Links/Poems. Frances Horowitz writes:

I shall not be careless this year:
I shall not forget to see the wild garlic blossom
-as I did last May, and the May before.

I don’t want to be careless this year. I want to capture those tiny moments of immensity – you know, those unique scraps of consciousness that make life worth living. Crazy maybe, but I think that with all of us in it together they have a power that we might need right now.

Bring it on, 2018. May it be an exceptional year for you!

Judy

 

ALSO …

NLP Coaching

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) still stands out for me as a repository of some of the most useful leadership and coaching tools on the planet. I have recently been coaching people – individually or in pairs/small groups – in some of the most exciting of these tools. 4 Sessions of 1½ hours would give you an excellent grounding. Email me or call on 01306 886114 for further information.

Coaching

New Year, new resources? You might think that your own particular difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how simple conversations with a coach help you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. 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 or phone.

Voice and Communication 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 … or not? 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 books

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.

Newsletter Archive

Look here for older blogs – just scroll down. Or click on one of the descriptive tags to sort the archive.

Self-conscious, Unconscious, Conscious …

Hakuin

Hakuin’s circle

What’s the difference between conscious
and self-conscious?
And why does it matter?

Bulldozer

A couple of images stuck in my mind this week. One was the sight of he-who-shall-not-be named, the large American with yellow hair, bulldozing his way through the Prime Minister of Montenegro to get to the front of the group at a meeting of NATO leaders – and then adopting a ‘strong’ pose in the front with all the self-consciousness of my three-year-old grandson in his first nativity performance.

Self-consciousness… The present is a great time for body-language-watching as politicians in our British election and on the world stage strike postures and struggle to maintain whatever mask of confidence, power or stability they are wearing. “I am this,” they declare. “Oh no you’re really not,” I smile grimly to myself, watching the numerous cracks in their armour.

Self-consciousness is the self saboteur. Coach Tim Gallwey used to say that the easiest way to put your tennis opponent off his stride when he was playing like a god was to make him self-conscious. Easy to do: all you had to do was praise one of his shots and ask him how he did it. He would then start to think consciously about what previously had been unconscious, and – pouf! – he became self-conscious, his 100% focus disappeared and his game fell apart.

The cat

My second image was the cat in Jane Hirschfield’s poem, Against Certainty. Reading it again this week I paused at the following lines:

When the cat waits in the path-hedge,
no cell of her body is not waiting.
This is how she is able to so completely to disappear

I could see in my mind’s eye that cat, one hundred per cent concentration – every part of the cat waiting, awake, alert – no striving for affect, no trying, just intention, energy and focus – pure consciousness. It would seem absurd to think of the cat observing itself, admiring, assessing or worrying about its performance. And if it did, all the pent-up energy of the moment would surely dissolve instantly.

All of us capture that focus at times for a moment or two – when for example we are arrested by something in nature – a cloud, a tree, an effect of sunlight or the sound of water. Our mind and sense is held for a moment fully in the experience and the self disappears – until we try to describe our pleasure or freeze it in a photo and so break the moment. Whenever you are wholehearted in your actions, you feel alert and alive and effort becomes effortless. Your entire focus is on the doing, and no single bit remains for considering who you are or how you are doing. You lose yourself. This doesn’t mean that your work doesn’t bear the mark of you – it does, 100%.

Artists recognise this state and sometimes talk about disappearing. Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary about disappearing when her creative energy was heightened, “where my mind works so quick it seems asleep; like the aeroplane propellers.” The composer Handel, after finishing his massive work, The Messiah, in an incredible 24 days, told a friend in wonderment, “Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it, I know not.” The Japanese painter Hakuin – a contemporary of Handel – said he was only able to paint a perfect ink circle when he at last freed himself from self-consciousness, that is, when his ego disappeared. “If you forget yourself you become the universe,” he said. “Not lose your self, just lose consciousness of self so that your intention fuses with the object of attention.” This was the theme of various “Zen and the …” books that appeared in the 1970s, on Archery, Flower Arranging and all sorts, starting with Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Good reads!

“If you forget yourself you become the universe,” said Hakuin. Pure consciousness is a joyful state. Ideas burst in, new, fresh, surprising and hugely satisfying. The heart is near to bursting with the excitement and joy of it. When I accompanied my daughter playing a new piece on her violin when she was a little girl, she would laugh at the end with the pleasure of it and shout, “Again! Again!” Beethoven would apparently laugh out loud with delight at the end of an improvisation, where melodies had just poured out of him without any thought of originality or effect.

We make better decisions and our work flows when we are free of self-consciousness and able to do something for its own sake. Pure consciousness (sometimes called the other-than-conscious-mind) takes over, we feel energised, in the zone, and achieve our best outcomes.

I witnessed the freshness of this state recently in the simplest of settings when a TV reporter interviewed a child living on an isolated farm in the Outer Hebrides. The child responded to questions articulately and intelligently without self-consciousness like someone well beyond his years. It was shocking really how unusual this felt – the transparency and power of it – without the usual hinders and sophistications we learn through early life experience and education that get in the way of authentic conversation.

If we are transparent, with nothing to hide, the gap between language and Being disappears. Then the Muse can speak.

(That’s a quote from Stephen Nachmanovitch’s excellent book on improvisation, Free Play.)

I think that most of the happy serendipities and opportunities of my life have happened when I – that is, me – disappeared and I was fully absorbed in the moment. As well as being creative and productive, it’s a state that inspires and attracts, and others want a piece of it.

 

Many of us are self-conscious much of the time as we try to measure up, differentiate ourselves, create impact, or even just gain lots of ‘likes’ on Facebook. There are innumerable ways in which we self-consciously control our actions to obtain reactions we want from others. They are all crude efforts though when compared with the workings of our other-than-conscious mind and, as the man with yellow hair is finding, others tend to notice the coarseness of such attempts.

Pure consciousness can’t be bottled though. Hear this, oh eager organisations and corporates that want to quantify, prove and put it in a box – it can’t easily be measured, only nurtured. Handel had no idea how to measure what he had done in those twenty-four days – his touchstone was the huge excitement and joy of it. Measure that if you will.

But – being ultimately about lack of ego – I think pure consciousness – where we tap into the other-than-conscious – is something to aspire to, in business as in life. Its wisdom might even save our civilisation that’s currently swinging from crisis to crisis as the world’s protagonists strain for effect or short-term gain. (I’m writing this on the day of America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.)

I certainly want to tap such moments of wisdom more. But how?  I’m thinking about the subject quite a bit at the moment, and there are various elements. An important element is to LET GO, and especially let go of ego control. Your other-than-conscious mind serves you well when refrain from forcing things from your own small corner of existence, and especially when you step off for a moment and allow your intuition to flourish.

Sometimes, (as wise old Pooh tells us) if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.

My last aspiration for today is to be like the cat in the poem, which ends:

I would like to enter the silence portion as she does.
To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,
one shadow fully at ease inside another.

What isn’t possible then?!

Greetings everyone! Go well.

Judy

 

What else?

My Books

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 – pure consciousness even! 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.

Coaching

If summer-time is a bit quieter at work for you, use the opportunity to get a coach for a month or two. Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential.  Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. How you come across depends on your voice and non-verbal signals, and especially on issues like self consciousness. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Download some of my E-courses

(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

Did you ask a good question today?

Snow Leopard from National Geographic

Snow Leopard from National Geographic – video link below

When I was living in London years ago, a man in his fifties approached me for clarinet lessons. He wanted to take up the instrument secretly to be in tune with his 10-year-old son who’d just started lessons. It turned out that this man was Associate Editor of the Sunday Times, and during several years of lessons I got to know him quite well.

There was one thing that surprised me about a man in his position, and that was his willingness in any context to ask questions that I sometimes thought were rather dumb. It made me realise how often I myself held back from asking questions in case they sounded stupid. When my Sunday Times pupil asked naive-sounding questions, little by little he got at the truth. If he could ask dumb questions, why couldn’t I? Coming as I did from a family who didn’t ask for help even when hopelessly lost, this was somewhat of a revelation.

Out of the mouth of babes

Another ten-year-old, Hannah Bradshaw, leaped into the limelight this week when she asked a couple of questions of American Congressman Jason Chaffetz at a town hall meeting in his home state of Utah. Chaffetz, together with over 56% of congressional republicans is a climate-change denier (yes, I know, 56%). Hannah asked, “What are you doing to help protect our water and air for our generations and my kids’ generations?” … followed by the simple question, “Do you believe in science? Because I do.” Out of the mouth of babes – what a beautiful question! Chaffetz blustered for quite a while with political inanities and people started yelling at him, “Answer the question!” But he couldn’t find a satisfactory response, and eventually boos and outbursts from the crowd ended the town hall meeting in chaos.

Inventing dumb questions

I think it might be appropriate in our age to bring back more dumb/naive/simple questions. Randomly, I’ve just thought of:

Why do weather forecasters describe sunshine as beautiful weather and rain as bad weather? (My Ugandan friend finds it most puzzling! She says rain means glorious green fields, food crops and water to drink.)

Why do we talk about glorious war, but not glorious bullying?

Why is pleasurable extended endeavour called ‘hard work’?

What ‘dumb’ questions can you think of? Children tend to be best at this:

Why is the sky dark at night?
What holds the universe up?
Where did your life come from?

Einstein was pretty good at it:

What if I could ride a beam of light across the universe?

The best questions

Naive questions can work brilliantly in meetings – for instance,

Why exactly are we doing this particular thing?

when everyone is rushing headlong into the what and how of an initiative.

Have you ever been at a conference or seminar where someone asks the dumb question everyone wanted to ask but didn’t dare to? As people hear the question, you hear a tiny sigh of satisfaction around the room. So maybe it wasn’t a dumb question after all?

Another crucial dumb question is the one asked by someone who is new to an organisation. “Why do we do this particular task?” “Why do we talk about our clients (or women, or management) in this way?” they ask, cutting through the company culture and organisational bias, forcibly struck by injustices that everyone else has become blind to through familiarity.

Beginner’s mind

When we get used to something, questions stop. One of the secrets of creative thinking is to come at everything without preconceptions – with “beginners’ mind”, approaching everything with clear-eyed wonder as if we have never encountered it in our lives before. For when we are fully awake and attentive, we have never encountered it before; nothing is already known and many questions arise. (By the way, I used the snow leopard for the picture above because the animal in this National Geographic silent video seems to portray brilliantly clear-eyed wonder that reaches every fibre.) Henri Matisse as an old man said his aim was still “to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.” In this state, questions are simple and profound.

Maybe dumb questions asked by geniuses are what we desperately need more of in our world today? Nobel laureate scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi’s mother used to ask her after school each day: “Issie, did you ask a good question today?”

So what are the questions for you? I know we all have our own personal filters, that we see the world as we are rather than as it is. But what are you not seeing, or refusing to see? What’s staring you in the face? What simple naive question might jolt you into a moment of realisation? What is the question you need to ask? – that is the question.

 

OTHER THOUGHTS

Coaching

Feeling stuck? Don’t know what questions to ask yourself? Decision time? Need an impartial listening ear? A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Jason Harrison

I attended an interesting workshop with Jason last month. His thoughtful article on confusion links quite well with my theme this month.

The Miracle of Voice

It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource we have in our voice? If you don’t like your voice, you can change it; you’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. . Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Download some of my E-courses

(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

My 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
25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence. Discover how to perform brilliantly when you’re scared. And don’t worry – we’re ALL scared at times.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to dip into 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.

Workshops

Want some help in your organisation on communicating, presenting, voice, confidence, NLP or coaching? My workshops are practical, energising and highly effective. Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

In England this week, we’re loving the spring sunshine.
Happy times wherever you are.

Go well,

 

Judy

Are you cool, calm and collected?

IMG_4820Wouldn’t it be good to be productive and successful all the time
and deal with everything calmly?

Well, yes. But …

That absorbing author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said something that struck me this week: “Life doesn’t always follow an ideology,” she said, “You might believe in certain things and life gets in and things just become messy. You know?”

I know. I often felt like that during February, which can be a flat month for many. I worked hard at this and that; I fulfilled family responsibilities a bit here and a bit there; I felt over-worked one week and slightly wearied the next, and I experienced satisfaction at one minute and dissatisfaction the next. What happened to motivation, regular meditation, disciplined writing, order and direction? How did life get messy while my back was turned? Perhaps you’ve been in this situation yourself?

Cool, calm and collected

Oh, to be cool, calm and collected all the time!  I like the word “collected” – it’s such an old-fashioned term, and I like the image it conjures of all the disparate parts of a person being gathered up to make a congruent whole.

Though I don’t fully understand the meaning of “collected”, I know exactly what the opposite feels like. It’s that disjointed feeling as if bits of the self have been allowed to split off and pull in different directions; and life gets messy.

Grey patches

Why is it that life moves forward purposefully at one time, and then doesn’t? “Well, why not?” is one answer. Even the most brilliant artists, scientists  and leaders don’t accomplish without pause. I’ve been reading the poems of Mary Oliver recently (here’s a fascinating interview about her work). She has had a few hundred poems published in her long life, but there was a decade between her first book and her second, then six more years before her third. I don’t know how long it takes to write a poem, but I reckon that gives time for a lot of living in between.

We are easily seduced by witnessing only the highlights of other people’s existence into thinking that their lives are one long flow of glorious accomplishment. Even Facebook can give the false impression that a friend’s life is a continuous celebration of joy and success.

Mary Oliver speaks of the problem of purposeful living in one of her best-known poems, The Summer Dayin which she describes in detail a grasshopper that has landed on her hand and talks of strolling idly through fields all day. She concludes,

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Chief gremlin

So what to do about those “non-flow” times?  Mary Oliver doesn’t provide the answer, though she challenges with her question – as if to say, “So, I strolled through the fields all day and paid attention… SO? What else should I have done?!”

I recognise my own chief disintegration gremlin – it’s that old friend “ought”. “Ought” is brilliant at disrupting any activity. I start on a piece of writing that interests me, and ten minutes in, “ought” taps me on the shoulder, “You ought to be getting on with that course manual, don’t you think?” I switch task and have only just started on the manual when I feel another tap, “Oughtn’t you phone your son now before he gets to work?” Having failed to get through on the phone, I get another poke, “Getting frustrated are you? You ought to be more disciplined about meditating every day and then you’d be calmer, don’t you agree?” On it goes and my day becomes ever more fragmented.

Collecting myself

The funny thing is, I do know how to collect myself. Here’s one example: a while ago, I went on a peace of mind retreat to Mt Abu in India, where much of each day was spend in quiet meditation or other thoughtful pursuits. Towards the end of my time there, two different people invited me to join them in an activity on the same afternoon. Both invitations felt important in different ways, and I found myself worrying, unable to decide which to accept. In the atmosphere of Mt Abu, instead of telling myself negative stories or continuing to run through all the pros and cons, let alone all the oughts and shoulds, of the situation, I stopped and sat on a low wall, and cleared my thoughts for a few tranquil moments. Then I stood up and knew exactly what I was going to do – cool, calm and collected. How simple.

I think that a part of collecting yourself is knowing – trusting – that you cannot get life wrong – that it’s alright, that you will get through, whatever you choose. As Galway Kinnell tells us in his famous prayer of the three is’s:

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

And you collect yourself and know that whatever happens is okay – you want “what is”. Dark February, windy March, primroses in April – it’s all completely and entirely okay.

 

ALSO TO SHARE 

Coaching

Feeling stuck? Need a nudge? Decision time? A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

The Miracle of Voice

It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource we have in our voice? If you don’t like your voice, you can change it; you’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. . Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Download some of my E-courses (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

My 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 much more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have satisfying and buzzy conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
Subtitle: 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence. It’s about WHAT to do if you’re scared. And don’t worry – we’re ALL scared at times.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to dip into 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.

Workshops

Want some help in your organisation on communicating, presenting, voice, confidence, NLP or coaching? My workshops are practical, energising and effective. Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

Have a good month.

Go well,

Judy

In praise of Boredom

Young girl and jamjar

Young girl and jamjar

Useful occupation is good. Boredom is bad.
Organised learning is good. Lack of structure is bad.
But who says?

Freedom

When I was 5, I ran up to the field at the end of our road with my 8 year-old brother. We had two favourite spots up there; the first was a lively stream with its potential for dams, tricky crossing places and generally getting wet; the other was an old rusty lorry, abandoned in a corner by the hedge. That day, we scrambled over the lorry, and as usual had an absorbing inventive time … until I fell, and gashed a deep wound in my cheek.

With blood streaming down my face, I rushed home to Mum. Okay, maybe the wound should have had stitches, but medical services were an infrequent bus ride away, and faced with the prospect of a long expedition with my 2 year-old younger sister in tow as well as my irrepressible older brother, in the end Mum – a qualified nurse – strapped the wound tightly herself. The scar remained very visible through my childhood and well into my twenties. I can just locate its traces now.

But that was only one of many bumps and bruises in childhood. Knees were always grazed, shins bruised – it was the way things were. I used to be almost proud of my hockey and lacrosse bruises before new ideas of the feminine crept in. I was certainly proud that I could climb the tall elm by the tennis courts, from which, satisfyingly invisible up in the branches, I had a splendid bird-eye view of everything happening below.

Boredom

The other side of this freedom coin was boredom. If you have never known the dusty smell of privet hedges on a baking dry August afternoon with nowhere to go and nothing to do, you might not know what I’m talking about. “I’m bored”, I’d complain. I’ve got plenty for you to do if you’re bored,” came the reply. “You could clean the bath.” No help there then. I’d drift into the garden, and brush my fingers in desultory fashion along clumps of overgrown mint and lemon balm, and idly pick a few sprigs and sniff the scent.

The smell maybe awoke my senses a little, and I’d suddenly think it might be vaguely interesting to make a smell mixture. That would need water … and a container. I’d potter into the garage and find an empty jam pot (ah, the advantages for a child of a house where nothing is ever thrown away!). Then it would seem more satisfying to have a container with a handle, so I’d search among all the brown tools, nails, screws and hard metal contraptions to find the string in its rusty old baby-milk-powder tin.

If you’re old enough ever to have fished for minnows with minimal equipment, you’ll know there’s a skill to tying string around a glass jam pot so that it’s tight enough to keep the pot secure. You also have to prepare the string handle before you tie the string too tight around the pot, otherwise you can’t thread the string through for the handle. A crash onto a concrete path together with your glass pot on a string clearly represents a serious disaster if you’re only five. It has to be done right. So this procedure took quite a while. Then into the kitchen for water from the tap: “What are you doing?” “I need some water for my smell mixture.” “Oh, okay.” And my mother would move across from washing pots or nappies, pants or carrots.

Now, the activity was well underway; the garden proved full of lots of other pleasingly smelly things, and in this way I became familiar with every single plant in our small plot. Boredom? By this time I couldn’t anymore remember ever having been bored in my whole life.

Butterfly brain

What triggers these stories now? The other day I was complaining to my diary about me (I know, that’s just mean!) – about how I was struggling to complete a particular project without the structure of firm deadlines. I wanted to bully myself into getting more organised. And I reflected crossly how my brain is becoming more scattered and my attention span shorter as I use the internet more. You know how it happens. Perhaps you’re having a conversation about a song, and want to remember who wrote it, and someone always interrupts, “Oh, I’ll Google it,” and – da, da! – there’s the answer. Your brain has just started on a bit of brain stretching to remember the name and then – chop! – it’s unceremoniously cut off before being able to reach a satisfactory outcome on its own; and you’re immediately onto the next thing, an email maybe which contains an enticing link, which leads you to an article, that refers to a book with a riveting title, whose author, you discover, is part of a network you hadn’t heard of, which … maybe you recognise how one ends up lost and scattered in a forest without a compass?

It makes me smile that our precision technology can lead to such butterfly flitting. Busy here, busy there, busy, busy, busy …

So, coming back to my inner complaining? What if “Get, organised, get organised” is just the butterfly brain talking? What if the solution’s the complete opposite – allowing myself the freedom to be bored – going back to five years old, in other words?

Freedom TO be bored

When I think further, it’s on the occasions where the problem is open-ended that I suffer from this frantic “get organised!” inner urging. It doesn’t happen if I’m doing the equivalent of playing with a toy where you post shapes through holes and the problem is to get the right shape in the right hole (lots of work problems come in this category); it happens when I’m not even sure if I’m playing the right game.

In those cases, the “get organised” response, however instinctive, is not a useful one. So what then?

I’ve thought of three immediate aspects of my five-year-old self I’d find useful. Maybe you might discover similar?

  1. Abandon all necessities and be suspicious of every single timesaving device.

E.g. “I’ve got to look at Facebook before I go to bed or I’ll be out of touch.” I don’t think so!

“I need to keep up to date with everything at all times.” Maybe true in your job, but just how much did things actually fall apart last time you went away on holiday?

I must make another better-ordered list in Excel, even though I already have a rough handwritten one.” Rubbish!

“I have to lie awake worrying – it’s how I remember everything.” What if you slept, how would that be?

  1. Either think very big (big picture) or very small (close focus on one thing). Don’t think busy, urgent or rushed.

Thinking big allows you to take a lovely big breath and survey your terrain from a calm distance. Imagine you’re on the moon looking at you on earth for instance. From such a perspective, priorities fall into place, some urgent activities become unimportant, and you know better what to do next. Left and right hemispheres of the brain enjoy the balance of such a view.

Thinking small – being totally absorbed with single focus on one thing – is wonderfully good for the brain. Time ceases to exist; your cogs work efficiently and well; decision-making becomes easier, and challenges become enjoyable.

  1. Definitely this: allow boredom – it’s the soil that nurtures creativity

Creativity arises in the freedom of a house with doors and windows open. If we plug every gap with constant activity, nothing new emerges. Let in the air! What is boredom but space? Praise for the grace of empty space!

Especially when we’re grown-up.

Which makes me think of Pooh:

“What I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing,” asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, Nothing,’ and then you go and do it.

It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.”

from Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne

 WHAT ELSE?

Coaching

Coaching is vital thinking space for everyone. A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Performance Anxiety

Suffer from performance nerves? Read my book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms. It’s full of excellent strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence, and dealing with scary gremlins. We’re all scared at times and need a helping hand.

As a first step, download my E-course, 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

A couple of coaching sessions, face-to-face or Skype, can also make all the difference.

Speaking with Authority

There is no need to continue to feel inadequate at speaking – you can make the necessary changes without changing who you are, and the new ability will make a huge difference to every part of your life.

Download my e-course, How to Speak with More Authority.

Read my book, Voice of Influence. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level. Or dip into my ‘Dummies’ book, Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies.

Engaging in conversation with ease

Conversation is not just the art of talking – probably more the art of listening in fact! Read The Art of Conversationand find out how to make connection with people on a deeper, more satisfying level.

Start with my free E-course, 10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation, for some first ideas.

Communication, Coaaching and NLP

As previous participants know, I’m always delighted to run training courses and seminars. Contact me at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk  if you’d like to sponsor a course, or get a group of friends or business associates together for one or several days training. It’s a very cost effective way to learn.  Read testimonials here.

December can be a busy month for many. Here’s wishing you some valuable personal space.

Go well,

Judy

 

 

 

Lesons from Fools

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 21.32.18I’m in my twenties, and I shout over the boiling kettle to my flatmate in the other room, “Where’ve you put the tea?”

“In my sock drawer,” she shouts back, her tone of voice also suggesting, “Der! Where did you think?”

Who says everything needs to make sense?

 

The BFG

Roald Dahl used to love the unexpected. The BFG (Seen the Spielberg film yet?) is a great example. He is satisfyingly scary – oh, that horrifyingly huge hand that plucks Sophie from her bed! (“Seriously, that book should be banned – it could cause children serious psychological problems.”) Yet, in a neat piece of shape shifting, we discover that our huge BFG is in giant-terms a runt himself, bullied by vastly huger giants.

Again, so ignorant a giant that he can’t even talk English properly (“Words is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me”), he makes many of the wisest comments in the book.

“Yesterday,” he said, “We was not believing in giants, was we? Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers. Just because we happen not to have actually seen something with our own two little winkles, we think it is not existing.”

Shape shift again – he’s simple-minded, yet with special powers: “I is hearing all the wondrous and terrible things,” he tells Sophie, “all the secret whisperings of the world.”

But to be serious, seriously …

But to get away from children’s stories, do you believe in seriousness? The world divides into the serious – everything to make sense, and the non-serious – lightness and humour, especially for events and situations that are serious or terrifying or just plain paradoxical.

Some examples of the divide:

Serious: Job interviews on the whole. Your reasons and explanations have to ‘make sense.’ When I had a job assisting in running job selections for one of the big accounting companies, the selectors mostly rejected CVs that didn’t fit a consistent pattern – for example, an unexplained career gap was considered a serious impediment to selection. By the way, just think of the people who wouldn’t be selected by such a ‘serious’ method? Albert Einstein – expelled from school, and in any case considered ‘slow’; Bill Gates – dropped out of Harvard; Stephen Spielberg – couldn’t get the school grades to get into University; and thousands of other remarkable people.

Serious: Politicians (many of whom have excellent CVs with not the tiniest chink of a career gap between Oxbridge and Political Adviser.) Most politicians like pattern and structure. They talk about “sensible people” as in “all sensible people will agree that I am right.” Oh and, “This is the right thing to do.” Very serious – very simplistic … very righteous …

Serious: a life that makes sense. Most people are reassured by a past that is coherent, even if it’s a complete shambles. Look out for the minute smirk of satisfaction when someone says, “I’m a failure because …;” (complete the dots: negligent parents, wrong school, bullying, unfair treatment…). Once they’ve made the past fit a pattern, it carries on just as coherently into the future: “I’m destined to continue a failure because I never had a chance because of _____” (same reasons). Seriously flawed thinking, but it “makes serious sense.”

What about non-serious?

Non-serious: “What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announces rather grandly.” Nonsense… funny … and true. Both humorous and profound in the same sentence.

Non-serious: Coaching – where humour is allowed to walk side by side with major life themes and difficult feelings – the humour doesn’t deny the feelings, it universalises them as a human condition and makes them less scary, allowing the work to be done.

Non-serious: Dancing, writing, running, painting, singing – ‘non-productive’ activities where joy underlines the energy, where results can be profound.

You get the idea:

Serious: You’re going to be a perfect accountant, your working life the perfect pattern of progression.

Non-serious: Well! They broke the mould when they made you! You’re unique, you’re original, you’re wonderfully, amazingly YOU.

In literature, wisdom often emerges from the mouth of the fool: Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, King Lear’s Fool, the wisdom of children, Winnie the Pooh – that bear of little brain, The Beatles “The Fool on the Hill” and on and on.

I have found that seriousness and rationalisation make me heavy, over-conscientious, detail obsessed and anxious. Lightness gives me energy, fresh ideas, and a better view of the whole, including other people. Anxiety shrinks and cripples; laughter releases and expands.

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about. Oscar Wilde

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. Elbert Hubbard

Lighten up and you lighten up those around you. Fear crawls away to trouble people who are more serious. In lightness you rediscover flexibility; rigid control becomes redundant; the mind begins to play and discover new patterns; relationships become fresh and interesting; grace returns.

Autumn, new beginnings … what about treading lightly for a while? You might find yourself laughing at how many good things happen and at how much you achieve.

Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically. Nelson Mandela

And the rest …

E-courses

Have you dipped your toe into any of my short chunks of learning – gifts to download from my website? Just sign up to the ones you want (I never share your email with anyone) Choose from:

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

How to Speak with More Authority

Understanding NLP

Coaching

Coaching is for anyone and everyone. I hear from senior people in organisations who want to air ideas and solve problems, executives who wish to polish their skills, unemployed people who want to get back into the market, people who feel in a rut and wake up one day to make that first step – a phone call, people from all walks of life. Maybe it’s time for you to take that step? A few sessions of coaching are affordable and potentially life changing.

Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Coaching with Compassion – Sun. 9 Oct – London

Another great event in the Spirit of Coaching series, hosted by the Brahma Kumaris in London – 2.00-5.30pm.

An opportunity to explore the depth and meaning of compassion and the important role it can play in the coaching process.  For all coaches and anyone interested in personal growth and development.

It’s free, but you need to register here.

My Books

The Art of Conversation    No one ever taught us the art of conversation – no wonder many of us struggle. Change your life with confident communication.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms    The practical answer to the fears and anxieties of presenting, speaking in meetings and expressing yourself when the going gets tough. 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies     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.

Training Courses

Would your company benefit from a group session on voice, communicating, presenting, NLP or coaching? Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

Go well,

Judy

 

judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

 

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Catching a Summer Moment …

Georgia O'Keefe: Sky above Clouds (in her exhibition at the Tate Modern, London, till 30 Oct 2016)

Georgia O’Keefe: Sky above Clouds (from exhibition at the Tate Modern, London, till 30 Oct 2016)

I’m sitting in my father’s old house, sorting through piles of papers. I’ve just come across a copy of deeds from when the house changed hands on 18 October 1892.The house was on a 1000-year lease going back to the reign of Queen Elisabeth I, and every leaseholder from that time on is recorded in the document. The lease-holders in 1892 are Harriet and William Martin. Harriet has painstakingly signed her name. Her husband William has produced a shaky inky cross, traced over a pencilled cross.

For some reason, that stops me in my tracks. I’m suddenly struck by the contrast between these familiar rooms in 2016 and during the years of this earlier inhabitant, William. How different our lives… He can’t read or write – so books, newspapers, computers, phones, all reading material lies outside his awareness. His range of movement is much smaller than mine – maybe he has a horse and cart and travels the few miles to Guildford or Farnham. He could then travel by train, but probably didn’t. No cars or planes. He certainly walks: the house is almost two miles from the village, the common for grazing extends quite a few miles around. In the house, lighting is provided by candles and maybe an oil lamp; heat is the flame of an open fire. No electricity signifies no kettle, no central heating, no fridge, washing machine, electric mixer, coffee maker, toothbrush – the list sounds faintly ridiculous.

What really grabs hold of me as I reflect on this, here and now? He has much more physical work to do than I have, but he too uses his brain. From where does he acquire knowledge though? I think of how I am willingly bombarded by knowledge and information, always consulting the internet, catching up with items on Facebook, reading news, books, on-line articles, listening to radio, watching TV; navigating my way through life by means of signs, papers, bills, invoices … often reading at table, reading in bed, falling asleep over book or Ipad, waking up in the early hours and making note of something …

Whereas William? Maybe he talks to Harriet after a day’s labour. He meets a neighbour on the common and picks up some news or gossip. Maybe he walks the couple of miles down to the village pub, maybe shares thoughts on life, work. religion? Someone sings a song; tells a story. The likely paucity of information is staggering.

But most of his knowledge comes from observation. He looks at the sky and assesses the weather. He checks his garden vegetables for drought or blight. He examines his tools and sees what repairs are required. He listens to the calls of the birds, spots a deer on the common, succeeds in catching a pigeon or a rabbit. He hears a cart trundle down the road. He smells his bread in the oven and knows it’s ready.

Sitting on the floor of the bedroom, my legs have become stiff. I’m left feeling my life’s too complicated. I spent at least 5 hours in the past week grappling with the complexity and aggravation of changing my phone and sim. I constantly manipulate information and spend much less time using my five senses directly on the outside world. Okay, I’m living now, not then, and I mostly appreciate the wonder of having instant access to communication and information. But there’s a part of me that’s tired – that needs something simpler.

I suddenly want to laugh as my information-grabbing mind instantly starts to create solutions for myself: meditate! Resume yoga, tai chi, chi gung! Practise mindfulness! Learn how to breathe! Organise a new relaxation schedule! Get more disciplined about it! Oh dear, William of the simple X, are you laughing too?

Then I think of the advice an old and valued friend gave me twenty plus years ago. “Make time for a cup of tea,” he said. “Just sit down for a few minutes, and just drink your tea.” Best advice I ever had.

I think that’s right. If you walk too far your legs get stiff; if you carry too many heavy things your shoulders ache; if you over-eat your stomach complains. But when you use your brain too frantically, it’s easy to miss the signs.

So make a cup of tea, sit down and – without actually labelling it – there’s a surrender. Your body relaxes and your rigid hold on yourself lets go. Letting go may release as yet unacknowledged emotions, and these, once recognised are experienced and dissipate, or are recognised and can be dealt with. Then, emotional blocks quietened, you access once again good thinking, creativity and intuition. And the joy of being back in flow.

But that’s my mind making sense of it again. What about you? Maybe you’re giving your brain a rest this month – in the country or by the sea? Whatever you’re doing, I hope that you too are able to let go of busy-ness for a while and take time to laze …

I’ve just discovered the magnificent word ‘lollygag’. If we can this summer, let’s all lollygag for a while.

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.
Maya Angelou

 

Coaching with Compassion – Sun. 9 Oct – a date for your diary

Another great event in the Spirit of Coaching series, hosted by the Brahma Kumaris in London – 2.00-5.30pm.

An opportunity to explore the meaning and depth of compassion and the important role it can play in the coaching process for both coach and coachee. For all coaches and anyone interested in personal growth and development.

It’s free, but you need to register. Registration details will be posted very soon on http://www.brahmakumaris.org/uk/london.

Coaching

Do things sometimes go round and around in your brain without resolution? How do you become more confident? How can you stop that negative inner voice? How can you sort out your life? How can you be the person you want to be?

Coaching helps you to make more sense of your life, and take positive steps to create the life you want. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple coaching conversation to create change.

Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

E-courses

Great little chunks of learning – gifts to download from my website. Just sign up to the ones you want (I never share your email with anyone) Choose from:

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

How to Speak with More Authority

Understanding NLP

Books

My latest book, The Art of Conversation, is appearing all over the place – my daughter spotted a copy on display in a bookshop at Kuala Lumpur airport last week! No one ever taught us the art of conversation – no wonder many of us struggle. Change your life with confident communication.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms is the practical answer to the fears and anxieties of presenting, speaking in meetings and expressing yourself when the going gets tough. 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies will help you discover the power of your voice, understand how it works, and use your voice 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.

Training Courses

Read testimonials here. Would your company benefit from a session on voice, communicating, presenting, NLP or coaching? I’d like to help. Get in touch.

A Poem on Taking a Moment

Here is Rumi on letting go of insistence.

Don’t insist on going
where you think you want to go

Ask the way to the spring.

Your living pieces
will form a harmony.

There is a moving palace
that floats in the air
with balconies and
clear water flowing through,
infinity everywhere,
yet contained under a single tent.

 

Have a look too at Mary Oliver’s famous poem, The Journey, which talks of the necessity sometimes of withdrawing “from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Happy summer, friends,
Go well,

Judy

 

What’s the Job of a Coach?

golden-statue-of-hero-riding-horse-2701x1986_101722 (1)When planning my old website my designer decided to make the subject headings gold – I quite liked it. When I tried to replicate the tone in my newsletters I discovered that the colour that appears as gold on screen is in fact a dirty yellow/ochre/brown colour. It just deceives the eye into thinking it’s gold.

When you think about it, even when you see a gold object in real life, its golden glitter is not intrinsic, but the result of reflected light – its glow is not inside it, as it were. If you want that, you need a source of light. Gold objects are not sources of light.

I was pondering this after coaching someone the other day. Sometimes, as coaches we are asked to polish a person’s golden image – i.e. to enhance their persona.

Let me explain. The client tells you that he (or she of course – I’ll carry on with ‘he’ for now) wants to achieve a particular outcome, and seeks your help to achieve it. The GROW model of coaching describes the process quite well – here’s one version:

What’s your Goal?

What’s your current Reality?

What are the Obstacles stopping you from reaching your goal? And then, what are your Options for dealing with these?

Finally, what is the Way Forward? What Will you do, by when?

Let’s say the client has come to me with the goal of ‘walking his talk’ as a leader – of coming across more powerfully. People who have inner power and confidence tend to speak in a deeper voice, stand tall and balanced, and look at their listeners. So – to put it simply – I help the client with voice, deportment and eye contact. He then looks and sounds powerful enough to convince quite a lot of people quite a lot of the time. But not all the people all the time. It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly, but there’s something artificial about the image – exactly that, in fact – it’s an image.

In working in this way, I’m helping the client to polish his personality and make it glitter like gold, rather than helping him shine with his own light from within. In so doing, I’m short-changing him.

Let’s imagine that this client – this leader – had a father who always told him he wasn’t good enough. Now in adulthood, however much he is promoted and treated with respect, there’s a small voice inside him that continues to whisper, “You’re not good enough.” That’s a pretty common scenario – you might even recognise it yourself. I can help him burnish his golden image till we’re both blue in the face but it won’t send the small negative voice away, and so he’ll never quite convince people of his leadership qualities. We see this in public figures all the time – the EU debate is a great place to look at the moment – there are those who play the role of powerful leader and those – far fewer I might add – who radiate moral power and genuine authority from a source within.

In order to do the latter, our client requires something different. I need to help him find his confidence and integrity inside, like a light within. And that means that I have to be capable of seeing the potential existence of that light within him, even when it’s obscured by a glittering reflection.

And for the client to see it too, it’s necessary for him to look beneath the glossy exterior and come face to face with himself – face to face with timidity or vulnerability or fear. Once that demon is faced – and incidentally it’s scarcely ever a real demon but only a shadow on the wall – then the person is able to step up to real authority and leadership, and convince with his authenticity. As wise old Rumi tells us, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

What is the glossy exterior, this glittering reflection that wants to create smoke and mirrors and reflect glory and power? It’s the ego.  But as coach, I know that a person’s real power – their source of light – is revealed when in coaching we go underneath the gloss to their authentic values and knowledge of self.

We coaches don’t achieve that aim all the time. When we do, that’s the real deal; that’s what we’re here to do.

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. Rumi

 

Coaching

Have you thought about finding a coach? If you haven’t experienced good coaching before, speak to someone who has. It’s extraordinary how in a surprisingly short time you can achieve results that transform your life, and stick. Whether you lack confidence for an interview or change of direction, are stuck in a work or close relationship, can’t find your way forward or want to be more effective in your work and relationships, coaching can achieve successful lasting change for you.

I offer one-to-one coaching both to executives a senior level and to people from every walk of life. It’s quite usual to book a series of 6 coaching sessions, either face-to-face or by video or Skype. I also offer one-off sessions to boost your confidence and skill for a particular conference speech or an important interview.

Don’t hold back if you’re looking for support in some area of your life – I can probably offer a solution that will suit you.

My books

Why not start off by buying one of my books – widely available – and then contact me with any questions you may have.

The Art of Conversation

– Change Your Life with Confident Communication. My most popular book – change your life with confident communication. Learn how to connect better and enjoy successful conversation with people.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies

All you need to know about speaking – in the familiar easy-learn format of this series.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms

– 25 sure-fire ways to speak and communicate with confidence. Suffer no longer from paralysing fear – you too can speak confidently and surely. This book is highly practical and effective.

Voice of Influence

– How to Get People to Love to Listen to You. People jump to conclusions about you because of your voice. Get your voice working for you and see the amazing difference it makes in your life!

Speaking and training

Though not running my open courses this year, I’m still public speaking and training, so do get in touch under either of those headings.

Other Links

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Western World by Iain Gilchrist is a startling and important book – several centimetres thick! – that describes the tension between two fundamentally different ways of being and thinking in the world today. Iain has now brought out The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning – a 10,000 word summary of his original book – fascinating stuff, easily accessible and well worth a read.

Another interesting read for coaches – and others – is Insight Dialogue: the Interpersonal Path to Freedom by Gregory Kramer – brings insights from interpersonal meditation that can prove valuable in coaching.

A Poem

Finally a poem by D H Lawrence on the subject of ego.  You can find other favourite poems on my website here.

When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego

When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels turning in the
cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.

Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like
burnt paper.

Do contact me at info@voiceofinfluence.co.uk if you have questions or comments about any of the above.

Enjoy the long June days,
Go well,

Judy

Blocking and Yielding

Business has SO much to learn from improvisation!

"Look ... bla bla bla"

“Look … bla bla bla”

When someone attacks you in the martial art of Aikido, you never meet the attack head on and block it (that’s painful!); instead you swiftly move to go with the line of the attack – travelling with the other person’s energy – and then, from moving together, you influence the outcome with minimal energy on your part.

That’s a principle method in the art of improvisation too. Business – and life – has so much to learn from impro. Keith Johnstone is a renowned teacher and author of books on the art of impro. He gives his students a basic rule to accept any offer made by another improviser – i.e. give their idea credibility – and then offer something in return; in this way they move the action on. Saying no on the other hand blocks the action, like meeting an Aikido attack head on – ouch! End of story.

That sounds good sense to me. But sometimes life drives you mad, doesn’t it? Last week, the day after re-reading parts of his book Impro I made a special effort to visit a relative who frustratingly was neither happy to see me nor in a good frame of mind.

Nobody visits me, the relative complained.

Well they do! I’m here aren’t I? – my defence was on my lips all ready to shoot out. But Johnstone’s recently read suggestion to accept and say “yes, and …” sprang to mind, and I went with it:

Nobody visits me, the relative complained.

Yes, and when nobody’s here you feel lonely? (going with)

Mmm – nodding. It is nice to see you.

Wow, my relative had started unconsciously to play the impro game with me. How cool and surprising was that?!

If you want to play too, here are the rules:

Go with what’s coming at you, then take it somewhere (perhaps with “and”).

ATTACK: “Why didn’t you remember to do it?!”

“It’s so strange that I didn’t remember to do it! And …”

Give something away

ATTACK: “This isn’t good enough!”

“I want it to be amazing! – Please tell me your ideas for improving it.”

Remember to match the energy of the attacking statement so that you’re moving at the same speed as your attacker at the start of your response (think of passing the baton in a relay).

Johnstone holds that saying yes takes you to interesting places, and that by our choices of whether to block or yield we create our own lives of adventure or tedium:

There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain. … People with dull lives often think that their lives are dull by chance. In reality everyone chooses more or less what kind of events will happen to them by their conscious patterns of blocking and yielding.

‘Fear crouch’

“Blocking and yielding...” If you watch a politician being interviewed you sometimes catch a gesture when both hands come up, fingers up and spread, palms outwards, in self-protection – often in sync with that familiar truncated interrupt word, “Look …” bla bla bla. The uplifted hands raise and stiffen the shoulders and the upper body curls forward – it’s the ‘fear crouch’ position our caveman ancestor adopted to protect himself from a man-eating tiger (it never worked even then – end of story).

In such moments the politician is blocking. The result of course is self-defence and entrenchment. It goes nowhere; the politician is unchanged, the interviewer is unchanged, and the viewer/listener experiences irritation or tedium.

But say yes to life, move into what is, and the result is very different. It doesn’t mean giving way on your principles; it means regarding more closely the people you are dealing with and maybe letting go of some control, even permitting a degree of vulnerability. Then, there’s a genuine exchange. Keith Johnstone suggests that it’s good to be altered by the experience of human interchange. He wants others to have an impact on us and us to have an impact on others, rather than both parties to remain exactly the same. The exchange then goes somewhere; it’s more creative, more generative, and a whole lot more interesting.

NB, this is not about becoming a “yes-man”. “No” is good too, when it has something to offer back.The Aikidoist sometimes responds to an attack with a loud NOOO! – and then follows through into a further response. This is a proactive “no” that takes you somewhere, rather than a “no” that retreats inside and slams the door shut.

Cherub Posture

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 16.21.38In Johnstone’s thinking, the opposite of the ‘fear crouch’ is the ‘cherub posture’, which opens all the planes of the body, head turned to expose the neck, shoulders turned to expose the chest and spine arched to expose the belly – a sign of openness, vulnerability and tenderness.

What! Shall we all be cherubs now? Well, yes, that is what strong leaders do! The next time you feel that closing down blocking feeling, think cherub – soft, open and available – and allow a yielding. Dangerous? Not really, there’s no collapse, there’s no denial, no pause in breathing – just a going with what you’ve been offered and allowing yourself to be ‘touched’ by the exchange even as you play your active part.

Funny thing is, people who embrace this yielding realise that this and not the other is the full expression of their power. It’s a great thing to witness.

Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you. Eckhart Tolle

Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive. Brene Brown

NEWS

NLP Diploma – DON’T MISS OUT!

The best of NLP, in three themed 2-day modules

If you can recommend this training, please let your friends know about it – thanks!

Module 1: Communication & Relationships 19-20 Oct,
Module 2: Leadership & Influence 9-10 Nov,
Module 3: Coaching & Change 26-27 Nov.

One more time this autumn, an amazingly good offer of NLP training from a highly regarded, experienced, effective and intuitive trainer (yes, that’s me:-)) at unbeatable value.

Pay What You Can. Very modest registration on-line, followed by a voluntary donation (at least equal to the registration fee if you want to pay your way, but up to you). See more here.

Why do NLP? Anyone working or living with other people needs knowledge of self and of how others tick. Brilliant for confidence and leadership of self and others – for leaders, coaches, managers, parents …

NLP Practitioner Completion

Just had three awesome days with a brilliant group – you know who you are!

Voice of Influence Workshop

Next workshop in the New Year – worth the wait! 2016 dates will be announced shortly.

Spirit of Coaching International Retreat

If you are a coach, you may just be in time to secure one of the last places on this beautiful retreat in the Oxford countryside, Fri to Sun, 4-6 October.

Through a mixture of talks, coaching exercises, workshops, inner reflection and meditation, we will:

• Explore the synergy between spirituality and coaching
• Deepen our experience of the space within and between us
• Discover new ways of enhancing and applying our coaching skills for the benefit of ourselves and the world.

As with all events organised by the Brahma Kumaris, there’s no charge for the weekend. However, contributions towards costs are welcomed. Email me, or John McConnell if you are interested. See you there.

Coaching

One of the most satisfying things about my work is to see coaching clients grow into larger confidence and bigger roles. If you’re in a rut, or struggling, or feel you may have more potential than you’re currently using, don’t hesitate to get a coach – a few sessions can make a huge difference to your self concept and confidence. It is truly worth it. Have a look at my thoughts on coaching, and email me, or give me a call (01306 886114) to have an informal chat about it.

Books

My four published books, available in print, audio and Kindle, have helped many improve their communication and speaking skills and build their self confidence. Check the links below, and or look them up on my Amazon page.

The Art of Conversation: Change Your life with Confident Communication

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Communicate with Confidence

Voice of Influence: How to Get People to Love to Listen to You

Free E-Courses to Download

Current titles:
* How to Speak with More Authority
* How to Overcome Performance Anxiety
* How to Raise Your Profile
* Introduction to NLP.

Daily inspiration and ideas on Facebook and Twitter

Hope to talk to you there!

 

That’s it! Happy new academic year – new starts, new opportunities.

Go well,

Judy