Another not-going-anywhere day …

IMG_1558

 

Another chill, dull, not-going-anywhere Sunday.

Stuck and boring, nothing being achieved, nothing worth achieving.

And then, by mid-afternoon, snow. Silent, drifting, changing the landscape utterly, its brightness lifting the spirits. A miracle of snow.  I didn’t make it come. It just came. I  watched it though, and it made me smile.

Sometimes, the present is a time of doing, sometimes of feeling, or dreaming, or waiting. Sometimes it’s none of those things, it just is. Or maybe it’s letting go of those things.

Once, I went to California for three weeks, and on my return, people were more loving, nicer. It happened in my absence. That’s how it seemed.

Last summer, the little track outside our back fence was full of flowers, more than ever before. I didn’t seed them, they just arrived.

I don’t know that much about chess, but when I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit recently, I noticed that the crucial chess move is sometimes a step backwards. Kind of counter-intuitive that.

We all know that the summer fly banging against the windowpane could turn around and fly free out of the open door, if it could just let go of its obsession: “Gotta keep right on going there! Forwards, onwards, come on! try harder!, progress, success, victory, Up school! Up school! Oggy, Oggy, Oggy! Oi, oi, oi!”

Letting go. A friend of mine started to practise mindfulness and wrote a song. There was no plan to write a song.

There’s a moment in yoga when you let go of everything, jaw, mouth, brow and eyes – the expression on your face melts away and you lose every characteristic of yourself so that nothing is left. Except of course that nothing isn’t nothing at all, but a whisper of the vastness of space, freedom, peace, harmony, eternal connection …

What am I saying? I’m saying that letting go is not merely a physical or mental health strategy; sometimes it IS the complete answer.

Whatever we bang on about, whatever we bash our heads against, whatever we despair about, whatever conclusions we force into being, there’s also the miracle of stuff that just happens: that unexpected gift from left field that lightens the spirit and kindles a precious spark within, causing everything to change. Like a miracle of snow.

What else?

Aikido and Communication

The Japanese martial art of Aikido (meaning: the way of harmonising energy) has much to say about communication, including the art of letting go. I have spent many hours on the mat, and I’m greatly looking forward to talking on communication with Quentin Cooke’s Aikido group on Zoom this Thursday. Quentin is an Aikido 7th Dan (proof of exceptional mastery), and in normal times runs a thriving Aikido Group in Cambridge.

Reading

There’s quite a lot about letting go in my latest book, The Art of Communication, as in all my books. Here’s one relevant short section from page 77:

Let Go

We access high energy only when our minds and bodies are free and relaxed. Having energy is very different from expending effort. Deep in many of us there lurks a private conviction that nothing worthwhile is achieved without hard work. The conviction leads us to extraordinary contradictions. We work hard for peace; we beat ourselves up to relax more; we worry about our serenity of mind; and we thrash ourselves in the gym to acquire ease in our bodies. None of these efforts is energizing when approached as hard work.

The more we wrestle with ideas in our minds and the more we exert effort, the more physical tension we have in our bodies. I was interested to discover that most people move more rigidly on their dominant, ‘try hard’ side. When we frown, clench our teeth, or tighten our jaw we create resistance against ourselves that makes everything harder. It’s like pushing and pulling at the same time. We find ourselves unable to think clearly or make headway in whatever we are doing. Paradoxically, this triggers more effort to think, which causes the rational part of our brain to make ever greater conscious effort.

Communicating with others is certainly less productive if you try too hard. The only solution is to let go. But how can you do that when communication and relationships with others matter and you want things to go well? To most of us, the idea of letting go is associated with giving up and we fear that it would be a disaster. We have lots of baggage around keeping going, maintaining standards, fighting the good fight, continuing the struggle, and refusing to surrender. It takes a special type of courage to let go of your usual anchors and props.

And then there’s

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence.
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions! Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

Voice of Influence

Did you know that you can gain similar benefits to my popular Voice of Influence Training (which I’m not running currently) through online one-to-one coaching – and at no extra cost, with the time spent entirely on what will benefit you most. Contact me if you want to know more. I have various packages that might suit you, a typical one being 3 separate sessions of coaching over a period of about a month, with space between sessions for you to practise in real life what you are learning.

Coaching

A few sessions of one-to-one work with a coach might be the answer to your situation during the pandemic. Whether it’s about relationships, or feeling stuck, or wanting to give yourself a better chance of advancement, or wanting to find who you really are, coaching gives you a unique space to deal with issues in your life. Online or telephone coaching works brilliantly. Contact me if you want to have an informal chat about it – by email in the first instance: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

A Poem for Tricky Times

In Denise Levertov’s collection of poems, “Sands of the Well”, published posthumously, there’s a poem entitled For Those Whom the Gods Love Less, which speaks to those who struggle creatively (all of us in one way or another, I guess). Here are the final lines:

Each life in art
goes forth to meet dragons that rise from their bloody scales
in cyclic rhythm: Know and forget, know and forget.
It’s not only
the passion for getting it right (thought it’s that, too)
it’s the way
radiant epiphanies recur, recur,
consuming, pristine, unrecognized-
until remembrance dismays you. And then, look,
some inflection of light, some wing of shadow
is other, unvoiced. You can, you must
proceed.

You can find the whole poem here, and Denise Levertov herself reads it here (find this poem 7 mins exactly into the YouTube video).

Here’s to happy serendipities this month,

Go well, friends,
Judy :-) xxx

 

Only connect

Yes, even during a pandemic …0_Mother-and-son-walking-through-a-park-in-winter

Perhaps because I saw fewer people last year, I thought about friends and family and valued interactions more than usual – both face to face and via the internet. It made me ask myself what made certain relationships stand out.

Has it been the same for you? And have you found certain relationships meant more than others? What were your best interactions like? Energising? Fun? Natural and easy? You felt understood? Sensed a real connection?

Special encounters can happen with the person you love the most, but also with complete strangers. In the summer when I wrote The Art of Communication, I recorded the following in my diary: *

“The little cabin we booked to rent in Shropshire was next door to an old house containing a restaurant that was shut at present. The owner, Elizabeth, came out to meet us and briefly explained that her husband wasn’t available to open the restaurant during our stay as he was currently ill. She showed us around our cabin, invited us to contact her if we needed anything, and then withdrew. Later, as we strolled out to explore, we paused by display shelves in the front garden containing a variety of interesting jams and pickles and unusual garden plants for sale, set up by our host.

“We didn’t see Elizabeth again until the morning of our departure a few days later, when she emerged from the house to wish us goodbye. As we said our thanks and farewells, we quietly asked her about her husband, and she explained that after a few years of ups and downs with cancer, his condition was now terminal and the time remaining probably short. As we listened, she told us about his work as a restaurant chef, their life in other cities, and some of the challenges of running things on her own now. We admired her garden produce and plants and commented on the variety of birds that were attracted by the food she put out in feeders. Encouraged by our interest, she told us about her excitement a couple of days before, when in the early dawn she had witnessed five nuthatch fledglings leave the nest. Time was suspended for a few moments and I felt physically the frisson of our connection.

“What was it? A short inconclusive conversation with a stranger. Yet I took much more from our conversation than some sad facts and some happier ones. It felt as if we had shared for a moment a larger theme of life. Such words are perhaps too abstract and fail to recognise how real the exchange felt – to each of us, I think. The truth lay in some in-between-ness; and it touched us.”

* This became the prologue of The Art of Communication.

What made such a casual short encounter exceptional? The first word to spring to my mind is empathy. And that was true of other memorable interactions too. I’ve been pondering on that and thinking that it matters – hugely – to all of us.

Empathy is personal

The first thing that strikes me is that empathy is personal. (It’s like the word sorry, in that you can’t actually practise it in any genuine sense on someone else’s behalf – though people try it all the time with sorry, perhaps with empathy too). Some people possess an impersonal kind of friendliness. They may be amiable, genial, convivial, gregarious, extrovert, outgoing, easy-going, good-natured, agreeable – there are loads of ways to describe it – but their friendliness is non-specific. For many such sociable people, friendliness is not their number one priority, but more a way of oiling the wheels on their way towards whatever is their first concern. (If you’re interested in MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator), ENTP might be an example, with an extrovert expression of friendliness that’s not the number one priority). You will certainly know people like that, at work maybe, or in the public arena.

Empathy is not a public attitude. It’s one-to-one, personal; and it’s a response rather than an attitude. When you are empathetic, you tune in to micro-signals and catch the vibrations of someone’s feelings and thoughts, whether joyful or painful, and you join them in that same place. It’s Rumi’s, “There is a field, I’ll meet you there.”

Empathy perpetually changes according to what it finds, so it has to be light and flexible, and open to the unexpected. Sometimes it’s silent and listens, sometimes it moves to specific words and action. It’s not generalised. If you have ever been in a bad situation and had someone dealing out sympathy in a general way, you’ll know the difference. There’s nothing so annoying as sympathy taken off the shelf, a fix-all attitude to adversity that’s all about the other person – “I know exactly what you’re feeling.” Empathy doesn’t know; it isn’t knowledgeable. On the other hand, it is intelligent – it sees (hears, feels, tastes, smells, intuits) clearly what is.

Intelligence: Intelligence is just openness of being.
Being open we respond with fresh insight.
– Osho

Empathy is connection with your equal

Secondly, empathy is a connection that takes place only between equals (or as equals). You have to breathe the same air. This is acutely important. If I think I’m better than someone else, I don’t reach them. And how many ways there are to feel better than other people! Maybe I received a better education than you; I’m more knowledgeable. Or I went to a school where we were taught that we were exceptional; or grew up in a religion of chosen people. Or my parents had more money and we belonged to a “better class of people”, or I’m “cultured” and have a superior accent. Or, I’m the teacher, expert, voice of experience.

And, of course, it works the other way too. Maybe I think I’m worse than other people, less well educated, more ordinary, ignorant, poor, stupid, uncultivated, badly spoken, with not much going for me at all. Maybe I think I’ll never make anything of myself, always be an outsider. Maybe I make constant comparisons and come out of it badly. Whether we feel superior or whether we feel inferior, we struggle to connect. Connection happens in the absence (however temporary) of better and worse.

By the way, we need to remind ourselves that someone being better at something doesn’t mean they’re intrinsically better than us, and someone being worse at something doesn’t mean that we’re better than them. (And isn’t it funny how the most talented people are often the most modest and how the reverse is also often true?)

How connection happens

Think back again to times when you have really connected with someone. What was true of those times? I would guess it wasn’t that you were the same, but equally there was no superiority or inferiority; you met side by side on the same ground of understanding and feeling understood. It put you on the same wavelength. Literally, your vibrations were in synch with each other. When this happens, something new – an idea, a solution or a breakthrough – often emerges.

It’s Either Or

So here we are at 2021. And we have a choice, both individually and on a global level.

Either, we play better and worse, and compete and fight on the premise that there’s not enough to go around – it’s my oil, my land, my vaccine, my water, my food, my job. I can turn everything in life into a fight: I win and you lose, or I lose and you win. I can fight disease, fight depression, fight the system, fight everything and everyone that’s other. I’m better than.

Or, we can connect and seek common cause. The world is telling us in increasingly urgent terms that the planet is interconnected and we won’t survive in silos whether we like it or not: our good health depends on global good health (viruses aren’t good at respecting borders); climate catastrophe will create shortage, uninhabitability and people movements on a scale we haven’t yet dreamed of. We’ve got to think more joined up even to save ourselves. Where’s the latest place they’ve found plastic – within a foetus in the womb? No gain in bleating that it’s not my plastic! Everything is connected. We’re too informed today to pretend otherwise.

So my intention this year is:

  1. To practise intelligence – learn to see more clearly, learn to be more joined-up in my thinking.
  2. Work on feeling equal to other people. Feel nervous of talking to that person? They are not better than you, even if they’re highly exalted in your company and paid 472 times as much as you. Feel superior to that person? Get very, very curious about them. Could I survive with my whole family in one room during months of lockdown? Could I work understaffed in an ICU unit, and face death constantly for a whole year? What is it truly like to be them? You’ll never feel superior if you do this exercise with diligence.

    Guy Standing puts it well:

    “A vital sentiment of a good society, empathy is the ability to put oneself imaginatively in the shoes of ‘the other’, whether or not one agrees with their predicament or actions” (my bold).
    (From The Plunder of the Commonsnow there’s a great read.)

  1. Spend some of the time I’ve spent ranting about politicians this year in seeking out people to admire and finding out more about them. I’ve already started my list – it’s a feel-good exercise! Albert Einstein, even had he not been exceptional in other ways would make it onto the list for this quote alone:

    A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

  1. One last wish. I hope that on 31 December 2021, you and I can look back and say with truth, “I’m pleased about my life in 2021. That was a good year!”

My warmest good wishes to you,

Judy

 

BOOKS

If you’re interested in this article, you’ll enjoy The Art of Communication – How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life, and also the most rewarding and fulfilling when you know how. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication is a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence. This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information has been tried and tested, and is highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You. Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

COACHING

A few sessions of one-to-one work with a coach might be the answer to to your current situation. Whether it’s about relationships, or feeling stuck, or wanting to give yourself a better chance of advancement, or wanting to find who you really are, coaching gives you a unique space to deal with issues in your life. Online or telephone coaching works brilliantly. Contact me if you want to have an informal chat about it – by email in the first instance: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

TIME FOR A POEM

Read the whole poem and enjoy it. Or if your brain is jangling today, just read the last four lines as we embark on the new year.

I have News for You by Tony Hoagland

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood
and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.
There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable
and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings
do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives
as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;
and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.
Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,
who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.
Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.
I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

 

What if …?

Come to the Edge 2020-12-04 at 21.09.05

What if …

okay, back to fundamentals, let’s just consider this for a moment –

what if you were completely okay?

Cut the subjunctive:

what if you are completely okay?

I mean absolutely, completely okay, just as you are?

There is just a chance that you already are. You may be in love, and the person you most esteem in the whole wide world is assuring you in every possible way that you are absolutely perfect, just as you are. If you are someone who has ever been in love, you might remember a time when someone else was your whole world, your universe, and their love for you made the universe and you in the universe amazingly okay.

It doesn’t last.

Okay, okay, okay, it does last; love does last; but does that very particular feeling of being okay last? Not for most people. You decide to have a ceremony to celebrate your love, and within the blink of an eye, you are deciding to go on a diet so that you will look especially great on that day, because currently, you’re a bit

See what I mean?

So, to come back to my question,

What if you are entirely, fundamentally okay just as you are?

Oh, I know that’s hard to take! Surely, if you thought you were okay just as you are, firstly you’d be self-deluded, and secondly, there’d be no motivation to improve yourself?  But we’re not talking perfect, we’re talking okay as opposed to not-okay.

What would be different?

I ask myself that question this morning, a day of dark skies and continuous rain, plenty of time to think about it. Oh my gosh, sobering thought, here goes …

  1. Well, for example, I’ve just done half an hour of home yoga – so what would be different with that? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need to push myself towards a result to feel justified in the practice. Without trying to get somewhere, I’d just enjoy the feelings of movement and stillness, of stretch and strength. I think it might be joyful. In fact, without the straining to do something right, I’d try out some free movement just as the mood took me and enjoy the combination of breath and rhythm and movement, lively and slow. No right and wrong. My body might even become my friend, a means of expression, creative. I like that.
  2. Generally, I wouldn’t have so much need to worry, and I do worry a lot. I call it getting excited ahead of events or being prepared – but it’s worry really. Have I done enough? Will people be happy with it? Will I achieve success? Ah, there’s a word that has other people’s branding all over it. But if I’m okay, I don’t worry about success in the eyes of other people, I don’t have to squeeze and bully myself to fit expectations. I put my own mark on it, and it gives me the glorious freedom to act as I want to act. I feel an energy rush even as I write those words.So – who knew it? – being okay energises. Well, of course it does; we all know that angst and tension are exhausting. Knowing I’m okay before an event – that is, I’m okay whatever happens – allows me the joy of imagining new ways of being with people, and fresh approaches to take. Creativity soars. If I’m okay, pressure lifts. I breathe afresh.

My face gets warm, tears feel close. Forgiveness seems in order. I’m sorry, self. I’ve been a bully. And for what? It’s just cut me off. Whipping myself into hard work – and competitive hard work at that – isn’t necessary at all.  “Yes, but,” I tell myself, “but I’m the kind of person who needs incentives, and structure and goals. If I don’t force myself, I’m afraid that …” Woah! you’ve slipped back into not okay, and you’ve hit on the cause – being afraid. Come back to the practice: what if you are completely okay?

  1. If I’m truly okay, I trust myself. This is true even if you find yourself at rock bottom and the choice ahead is between very, very bad and pretty damn awful but not quite as bad. That’s still a choice, and if you trust yourself, you’ll make a good choice; and then another; and another. And good choices lead to a good life.In any case, If I’m okay, mistakes are okay too, and sometimes a gift. The thing is, a mistake doesn’t make you not okay. The world is not four-square: it’s full of anomalies, oddities, rarities, irregularities, quirks, variations, eccentricities; and hurray for that. If you’re okay, you learn from mistakes and stay okay; if you’re not okay, a mistake merely confirms that you’re not okay – nothing learned.
  2. If I’m okay, you’re probably more okay too. All through this strange and taxing year, haven’t you found solace from friends who in spite of everything they’re going through are fundamentally okay? Me too. And If you’re okay, there’s more to laugh about. You jettison that dreary ball and chain of guilt. Hallelujah!
  3. If I’m okay, I love more. Such a lot of not being okay comes from “I’ll love you if ….” (if you don’t cry, if you become the person I want you to be etc. etc.) which is what some adults implied to us as children and what – if we don’t learn in time – we pass on in our turn. When you’re okay love isn’t conditional. And you don’t look out and see a world that is reflecting your non-okay image back at yourself. No, you look out and see all the amazing things there are to see. Doing so, you lose yourself; and in losing yourself you are able to relate to the other with love and compassion, no longer alone.

Soft stuff? If you like. Relevant to business and to leadership? It surely is. You must be aware of bosses who are not okay and create havoc, and world leaders who after growing up on the receiving end of “I’ll love you if …”  emerged as narcissistic, fundamentally irresponsible adults. They threaten the very planet. Whereas when you are okay, you form generative relationships and make sound decisions. You love and live, in other words.

SO. The all-important question: can you decide to be okay?

You can.

“You’re joking. I’ve never been okay. Ever.”

No matter. That’s entirely it. You decide – in your core rather than in your head. Your core is untouchable, and wonderfully, beautifully, achingly, gloriously okay.

And that’s the truth, you are okay, you are an okay person. Your life might or might not be, but you,

You. Are. Okay.

Writing this, a song I haven’t sung for quite a long time came to mind Here below are the words, and here is Shana Noll singing it (plus lyrics).

How could anyone ever tell you
you were anything less than beautiful?

How could anyone ever tell you
you were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?

How deeply you’re connected to my soul.                                                               
© Libby Roderick Music 1988   All rights reserved.

Let’s allow good stuff in this month. Let’s just let it in.

Go well,

Judy

Plus

My good colleague Sarah Smith, Director at Indigo Coaching and Leadership Development, interviewed me about communication and influence in the autumn. Here’s a snippet of our conversation (with many thanks to Sarah.)

Coaching

Did you ever want to get good at something, and then one day you took the plunge and had some lessons, and suddenly your performances was transformed, and you declared you should have done it ages ago? Coaching is like that: you acquire new abilities that greatly enhance what you are able to do. If you wish, you go deeper and discover your true motivations and purpose deep within. Then your life is transformed. Why would anyone not have a coach?! Contact me if you want a chat about it.

Books

What a wonderful Christmas present, and so easy to buy. If you want to encourage our bookshops rather than feed the online shopping behemoth, you can order online from Waterstones or go to www.hive.co.uk or uk.bookshop.org.

So how about a book on communication from yours truly? (That’ll make my Christmas!)

The Art of Communication: How to be authentic, lead others and create strong connections.
 We live in times where “living the image” has become endemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is as true for our relations with those close to us as for solving the world’s ills.

The Art of Conversation: Change your life with confident communication
Conversational skill isn’t just about being articulate and having lots to talk about It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-fire ways to perform with confidence
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, in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence: How to get people to love to listen to you
“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.

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.

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

IMG_0210

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.

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.

Learning and Unlearning

Paintings

 

People have started asking me what my new book The Art of Communication is about, and I flounder: “Well, whatever my last book The Art of Conversation was about, this one’s about … not that.”

Great. That’s clear then. It’s about what your last book isn’t about. Have I got that right?

Uhh, yes. The last book was about how to become better at conversation. This one’s about the next stage after that. The only thing is that the next stage reverses almost everything you learned before, which can feel counter-intuitive at times. For instance:

At first, you learn how to be able to keep up a flow of conversation. Later, you learn that communication is often about keeping silent and just listening, even sometimes through an awkward pause.

At first, you learn how to focus on what’s being said. Later, you learn how to focus on what’s not being said.

At first you pick up new tools that are effective and satisfying. Later, techniques fall away and you just are, transparent you – which is a much more vulnerable place to be.

At first, you learn that body movement and tone of voice make a big difference. Later, you learn that the most important signs and sources of connection are invisible.

At first, you delight in building your confidence and knowing what you are doing. Later, you find out that communication is also about knowing nothing at all.

Counter-intuitive perhaps, but that’s the wonder of it. It shows you how to breathe life into your relationships and produce powerful new thinking. You may even find that new insights, ideas and creative thoughts emerge from your daily conversations.

From Do to Be (doo bee doo bee)

Moreover, this counter-intuitive reversal applies to more than communication. Let’s say you become very good at something – it might be mathematics, medicine, playing the violin, archery or motorcycle maintenance. Then, when you have mastered everything you can, if you are blessed you break through to the next lever, which is something new – an intuition, a “feel for” – where knowledge and ability are no longer primary.

At this point, it becomes difficult to give expression to what has changed. Ask a true expert in anything how they achieve what they achieve, and they’ll struggle to explain beyond the basics. “I don’t know, I just know…” (a nice phrase in itself). Or they explain in riddles: “I just become my instrument.” “The answer reveals itself.”

Often a child has a natural instinct for some activity, and seems to achieve what a master could work a lifetime to achieve. In art for instance, how confusing it is for adults when a child paints a picture that is mistaken for a great master by experts! But that is the journey. We start with a natural instinct; then we lose the instinct as we learn more, and spend the rest of our lives learning how to recapture “the first fine careless rapture” within the wisdom of experience.

Innocence and experience

I mention in my book how struck I was by a short film of the artist Henri Matisse in old age, too frail to paint, cutting shapes to make his famous collages – scissors in one hand, painted paper held precariously mid-air in the other. Regarding his collage work, he wrote that your instinct needs to be kept fresh like a child, but with all the wealth of your experience behind you.

Finally, after a lifetime of learning, we arrive back at the same place we were at as a child but – as described by T S Eliot – now we know what we are doing. The Master and the child both achieve “the first fine careless rapture”, but the Master knows how it is done.

It is true that the odd child’s painting has deceived art experts. But when a controlled experiment was set up pitting the work of established artists against that of preschool children (as well as elephants, chimps etc.), a majority of people could tell the difference between the art of the child and the art of the recognised artist. (One comparison is pictured above.) They might struggle to explain in detail why they rated the artist’s painting higher, but they found a greater sense of intention or purpose in it.

Is any of this relevant for leadership?

Here are three thoughts:

  1. Don’t assume the spontaneous ease of good leadership is easy (music, art, communication and relationship likewise). Flow and sure instinct emerge from much experience.
  2. Until you reach true mastery, the best decisions can sometimes feel counter-intuitive. Always look beyond your first assessment of a situation to the bigger picture with its multiple threads leading backwards and forwards. (Topical tip: if you want to be a leader of nations, at the very least learn to play chess or Go – i.e. study systems).
  3. Don’t be always “out there”. Allow space for silence and not knowing. Find frequent times to come back in stillness to yourself.

By the way, the phrase “first fine careless rapture” comes from Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts From Abroad, and his “wise thrush” knows how it’s done. 

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

A quote to herald the spring …

Go well,

Judy

The Art of Communication

is available for pre-order here. To be released in the next few days – can’t wait!

Coaching

In coaching you find a vital thinking space where you come back to yourself. 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.

Ease in Public Speaking

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

The Surrey Earthquake

My colleague Neil Scotton wrote a powerful piece the night of our local earth tremor a couple of weeks ago. Find it here.