Do You Have Agency?

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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.

Peppa Pig doesn’t do it

Dalmatian

     Left-brain: “This picture displays random dots.”  Right-brain: “Ah, I see a Dalmatian dog sniffing amongst the leaves.” Image from Iain McGilchrist: The Master and His Emissary

 

I love the internet as much as the next person. I don’t want to go backwards, I really don’t. It is interesting how little losses keep popping up though. The spatial and directional awareness of being a good map-reader, for instance. The ability to find a book or a word quickly and easily through familiarity with the alphabet. Problem solving through thinking. Spelling. Memory. Concentration.

I was powerfully struck by a recent example. A teacher attending a talk on the brain in Toronto by Iain McGilchrist commented, “I am a teacher of 7–11 year-olds. My colleagues and I have noticed in the last three or four years that we have started having to teach children how to read the human face.” It turns out that all that time engaging with the mother’s face in the first years of life is vitally important for a child’s ability to understand expression and to empathise. Substitute the distraction and over-stimulation of TV, I-Pad and other technology and a vital development stage is missed. Peppa Pig doesn’t do it. Who knew?

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres, clearly separated, and each hemisphere brings into existence a quite different experience of the world. Technology is a reflection of a world dominated by the left hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere is certain, rigid and exclusive – more scientific it would say, as it categorises and processes material with a detached narrow focus – and it has the data and the gift of the gab to promote itself. But the right hemisphere understands relationship, nuance, humour, symbol and metaphor. It rapidly takes into account more and better integrated information over a broader range, though without the voice or statistics to proclaim its rightness.

It’s a bit like our two eyes – each eye sees a different image, but that difference is crucial so that we can understand distance and perspective through processing information from the two different images. Identical images wouldn’t help us at all . So too with the hemispheres of the brain – they perform different jobs: we need their different attention, preferably the right hemisphere as pre-eminent to give us a broader more holistic understanding, and the left hemisphere as its executive to move to action.

The left-hemisphere squabbling over Brexit is an example of the impossibility of resolution when thinking is confined to left-brain certainty, rigidity and exclusivity. The world is full of such examples.

We used to think that a left-hemisphere stroke was a disaster because often sufferers lose the power of speech as well as use of the right hand. But John Cutting, a psychiatrist who spent years with people who had had right hemisphere strokes discovered that they couldn’t understand humour, metaphor or any implicit meaning, nor poetry or tone of voice, nor read faces or body language; and these disabilities in the end represented a much greater loss of their humanity for them and their families.

So back to recognising faces, does it matter? Of course it does, hugely. But the advantages are neither precise, certain nor measurable, so the left-brain doesn’t really care. There’s no easy economic case to be made. The influence on the bottom line is not direct. The effect on exam results and league tables hard to argue. The relationship with IQ indistinct. The connection with delinquency and crime is unproven. As for connection with empathy and kindness, well where’s the proof, and where do empathy and kindness stand in the pecking order anyhow? Meanwhile, the right-brain knows that relationship is pre-eminent.

There’s no doubt that we live in a world that favours the left-brain and ever more so. The left-brain likes to think that it’s the grown up in the room, when experience suggests otherwise. How appropriate this week that it’s the children of the world who stood up and demonstrated against climate destruction, the gravest problem our planet is facing, while the grown ups wittered on about ferry companies with no ferries, expensive preparations for avoidable no deal scenarios widely seen to be disastrous and hero/villain arguments about long dead politicians. If your right-brain is functioning, you’ll appreciate the irony even if, like me, you find yourself speechless.

Let’s nurse our sense of irony; let’s read a poem; let’s use our creativity to find new ways through, round, over or under the current chaos; let’s imagine the world we actually want; let’s value the humanity in each other; let’s be kind.

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people.
A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Art of Communication

Left-brain/right-brain is one of the themes of my latest book. I’m very excited about it – it’s been four years in the writing, and comes out in just 3 weeks time – on 8 March. You can pre-order your copy here or from your usual channels.

Here’s a summary – hope it inspires you to buy a copy!

It has become a time of people saying stuff to each other and none of it actually
becoming dialogue.
Ali Smith: Autumn

You can get so far in conversation by becoming articulate, having things to talk about and learning the give and take of two-way discourse and the skills of debate. But that isn’t sufficient to give you a meaningful or wholehearted connection that leads somewhere genuinely new or worthwhile. This requires different abilities, such as intuition, open-heartedness, spontaneity, lightness of touch and ease with uncertainty. Unlike the left-brain patterns and rational themes most often taught as “communication skills”, these abilities depend on the often-neglected attention of the right hemisphere of the brain.

When you take the step change to learn these new, sometimes counter-intuitive, ways of relating, conversation can become the source of extraordinary vitality, capable of generating new insights, breathing life into relationships and even producing powerful new thinking able to transform the world we live in.

I set out to discover what makes such conversations so extraordinary, and what we can learn that will guide us to have them more often.

This is a book for leaders and business people, but also for anyone who suspects that conversation could be something more – more genuine, more energising, more generative, more creative and generally much more productive.

Go well,

Judy

Perhaps the Truth Depends on a Walk

Truth depends

My friends have just completed a 400-mile long walk in Portugal and Spain – in 26 days. I quickly do the maths: an average of 15+ miles a day. I’m impressed. My friend says it’s wonderful – “We just get up each day and walk: no deciding what to do, where to go, what the weather’s doing, what to wear, what to take, we just up and go.”

Now, there is a kind of walking that is focused – I’m sure my friends had their minds fixed on their goal as well as enjoying the scenery. But walking is more often an activity where conscious mental activity is absent, and that is its joy. It often represents a gap between activities – the lunchtime stroll through a park, the walk from the train station home, the quick once-up-the-local-hill with the dog.

And in this gap, good things happen.

Someone tells me that when she goes for a walk with an awkward friend, conversation that might be stilted in the house begins to flow with the rhythm of walking in the open air. Back in the day, I’d walk to an activity with my teenage son and he’d turn from taciturn into talker. (The same happened sometimes when he was sitting beside me in the car, both gazing forward).

When I am coaching, my client and I typically sit at 45%, considered professionally to be a non-threatening and equal arrangement – but some clients feel self-conscious when looked at, even at an angle – maybe walking side by side would work better for them? Certainly, there are coaches who specialise in coaching walks – walk and talk and silence, silence, talk and walk.

When I got angry one day and marched out of the house, a two-hour walk completely dissipated my anger – I could scarcely grasp the reason for it by the time I got home again with renewed energy and optimism.

So walking conversations can be in communion with someone else and sometimes they are conversations with yourself – both produce something new.

It’s fine to use a walk as thinking time, but I’m reflecting particularly on walks where there’s nothing to be accomplished, no goals, no decisions. You give your foveal vision a rest – delights spring up at the periphery – a half-hidden flower, a butterfly, a pleasing pattern on a tree trunk … Walks in the town are okay too, but a walk in the countryside puts human presence more on the edge of things. Nature impresses with its permanence yet is always different. Today sunlight is creating dappled sun and shade under the trees; a few months ago, tree trunks stood out against the hill in dark silhouette. The day you venture out in wind and rain against your saner judgement, you come back wet and wind-battered with adrenaline coursing through your veins and you think, “Wow! I’m glad I did that,” thrilled that you have a wild side after all.

The physical act of walking affects your mind, of course it does. When the writer Margaret Forster was recovering from cancer, she noticed particularly the connection between walking and writing. “It was remarkable”, she writes, “to find that walking must be somehow related to writing, that it somehow fuelled it. I’d always enjoyed walks, and seen them as an essential part of each day, but I hadn’t appreciated this strange connection. The walking loosened the writing.” (I recommend Forster’s My Life in Houses).

In last year’s Wimbledon tennis, I remember a match in which Andy Murray was visibly suffering from a hip injury. This of course affected his speed and flexibility of movement. But it clearly affected his thinking and judgement too, much more than you could attribute just to his physical state. Lack of physical balance and wellbeing affect mental and emotional wellbeing too. When I had a bad back I discovered the truth of this for myself; when I couldn’t walk I couldn’t think well either.

Sometimes these days I’m surprised to spot a piece of new research that proves a connection between mind and body – as if it were something new. Who could ever think that mind and body were not connected? Often physicality unlocks something that was stuck, where any amount of thinking and feeling has failed.

So here’s something you might like to try:

Think of something that you want to be able to do or something you’re struggling with, and consider separately the thinking, feeling and physiology of it. Then change your physiology.

For example, feeling daunted? Stand up tall and strong but relaxed, and breathe fully for a few moments; notice how that introduces something new into your feeling and thinking.

Is your brain bursting with too much to think about and decide? Feeling overwhelmed? Go walking in nature for at least an hour, preferably two, putting one foot steadily in front of the other, and pay attention to your surroundings. Notice how different you feel on your return.

And here’s a speaking tip:

If you lose courage for a moment on the platform or make a mistake, move a few steps away from where you were standing and take a deep breath. You’ll find that your brain resets and your poise returns – even perhaps your sense of humour.

Feeling under the weather, walk; in any weather walk; if you are able – walk. But don’t set conditions on it. In life’s paradoxical way, walking is most restorative when you don’t demand that it restores you or cures you, or fulfils an aim. Don’t ask anything of it.

The early 20th Century American writer Alfred Kazin sums up the power of walking most beautifully in Open Street:

“Walking I am unbound, and find that precious unity of life and imagination, that silent outgoing self, which is so easy to lose, but which at high moments seems to start up again from the deepest rhythms of my own body.  How often have I had this longing for an infinite walk – of going unimpeded, until the movement of my body as I walk fell into the flight of streets under my feet – until I in my body and the world in its skin of earth were blended into a single act of knowing.”

It’s a grand time of year for walking :-)

Go well,

Judy

You are warmly invited to my
One-day Masterclass on 17 October 2018

Coaching and the HeART of Conversation

in Guildford, (courtesy of Guildford Coaches Group)
for coaches and others interested in communication and conversation

What does new information emerging from neuroscience tell us about the different attention of the two hemispheres of the brain and its urgent relevance to our communication with each other? And how do we bring the full presence of our humanity with all its frailties into our coaching and conversation so that something new and miraculous can be born?

A rich day of lively exploration and personal experience with the aim of allowing something new to emerge in each of us

More details here.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ec2Iukkr8ivkkzKYXJNwEK49wFBPLEEbuEUVG4FUqO0/edit?usp=sharing

To book, complete the registration form here.

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Or simply email me to register your interest or to ask me more about it.

 mailto:Judyapps@voiceofinfluence.co.uk ((Guildford coaches email me to join list)

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Enjoy bite-size learning at home

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

Communication Skills in More Detail

(in 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.

 

A Walking Coach

My colleague Karen Liebenguth – compassionate coach & mindfulness trainer of Green Space Coaching – has many years’ experience of coaching in the open air. See http://greenspacecoaching.com for details of what she offers.

 

My Life and Executive Coaching and Voice 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 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.

 

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

The Long View

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/501447739748757891/

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/501447739748757891/

Monday morning. A road in Dorking. It’s pouring cats and dogs. Outside the house a rainy-day traffic jam of cars is trying to drop children at school; some students are arriving on foot with no rain gear or umbrella, facing a damp day ahead; long faces, exasperation. Typical huh – rain on a Monday, as if Monday weren’t bad enough ..

There suddenly pops into my mind an image of a different season, a day of searing heat and drought with no reprieve. Would it be possible on such a parched day to remember that on this day, today, I hated rain? Or would I just slag off the water companies? Of course I know I ought to love rain – our planet lacks water. Aren’t we the lottery winners to live where it rains? Aren’t we the luckiest people on the planet? How hard to imagine that on a miserable rainy day though!

The bigger picture

It’s just so difficult at times to see the bigger picture. When a politician makes an inadvertent (unavoidable – really?) mistake, is that face-saving explanation in this time and place worth the small addition it makes to general mistrust of words used by power? You’d think it might for it to happen so often. Yet leadership is not made of this. True leadership takes a longer view.

The big picture, the long view, must mean to learn both from history and by looking ahead, you’d think. If it means anything, it must mean that, mustn’t it? Or? People in power appear to adopt this longer view, with their backward and forward looking comments after disasters, “How did this happen? Whose fault was it?” and “Lessons will be learnt”, repeated over and over. But maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it – it’s certainly pretty ineffective.

Paradoxically, I believe that a helpful way to achieve a longer broader view is through awareness in the moment. When you go forward and backwards, short-term considerations loom too large and potential short-term losses seem too great. When you succeed in being in the moment, you open wider and absorb more information (mostly beyond consciousness, it’s true), and thus embrace an intuitive wisdom that goes way beyond immediate fears and local considerations.

A valuable commodity for leadership? You bet. And an excellent reason to cultivate mindfulness, silence, meditation and all the other ways (the same way), not only of ridding yourself of stress, but also of tuning into your intelligence within.

Two kinds of intelligence

As Rumi says – taking snippets from his marvellous poem, Two Kinds of Intelligence (trans. Coleman Barks): “there are two kinds of intelligence”. One is book learning and information gathering: “with such intelligence you rise in the world” – you are lauded for it. The other kind of intelligence is “already completed and preserved inside you. … A freshness in the center of the chest.” This learning is “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.

Only imagine

An important element of this deeper intelligence, this “fountainhead” within you, is imagination – which includes the ability to get beneath the skin of people with empathy and feel what it is like to be them.

How many of the recent upsets in political life would have happened if people with power had the imagination to expand their view, step into the life of those without power and feel their reality? What would be the chances of 13th century Rumi – Iranian (Persian), Sunni, Muslim, Sufi, whirling dervish – if he were alive in the west today? How many would ask what it was like to be him?

Great question though. What about stepping with our imagination into the life of someone we know. Ask ourselves, “What is it like to be you? What is it really like to be you?”  Employ our imagination. See what intuition emerges. Could be mighty useful …

Go well,

Judy

Two notices I don’t want you to miss!

1. MY NEW MASTERCLASS – 17 October!
Coaching and the HeART of Conversation

You are invited to my one-day Masterclass – for coaches and others interested in communication and conversation

– in Guildford, courtesy of Guildford Coaches Group

– on 17 October 2018

What is new information emerging from neuro-science telling us about the different attention of the two hemispheres of the brain and their relevance to our communication with each other?

And how do we bring the presence of our full humanity with all its frailties into our coaching and conversations in such a way that something new and miraculous can be born?

More details here

To book, download the registration form here.

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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.

 

Coaching

What holds you back? You might think that your own particular set of difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how a simple conversation with a coach helps you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. Six months from now you’ll be saying, as other have, I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago! 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? 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.

 

Newsletter Archive

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

 

 

Just Think!

http://relativisticobserver.blogspot.co.uk/

http://relativisticobserver.blogspot.co.uk/

How well do you think?

There’s thinking and there’s thinking …

 

Doing what you’ve always done

Old Farmer McDonald’s animals used to shelter in the old barn in the corner of their field when the weather was bad, but it was getting old and leaked badly. So old McDonald pulled down the old barn and built a fine new one in a different corner of the field. A few nights later there was a rough storm and old McDonald got up to check that his animals were all right. To his surprise he found the new barn quite empty. Using his flashlight he caught a glimpse of the old pile of remnants of the old barn, and there were all his animals, huddled miserably beside it (thank you Gene Rooney via Suzie Smith for the story).

Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted

When the Irish troubles were at their height and the IRA were threatening London (I beg you to remember those days, you buccaneering Brexiteers!), an IRA bomb secreted into the Tower of London – presumably in a “tourist’s” bag – caused many injuries and one death. About this time I used to take visitors to the Tower on a regular basis, and for months and years after the bomb blast tourists used to have to queue while officials implemented their new safety measure – to search every bag. Only bags though. You could have arrived wearing a huge coat with ample pockets like Fagin in Oliver Twist and they would still check only your bag.

The law of unintended consequences

Several years ago, the government brought in a new inducement for schools. Those that achieved good results were to be given extra funding. Those that did less well would be denied funding. As suspected by many, the thriving schools continued to improve and increase in student numbers, thus attracting further funding, while the schools denied funding declined even further and often ended up in special measures. “You could see it coming,” commented a teacher friend wryly. Not put off by the negative results of such a scheme, our current government has offered extra funding to hospitals that succeed in balancing their books. The hospitals in more needy areas that fail to balance the books are denied this extra funding, which of course makes it even harder for them to balance the books the next year, creating a continuous declining spiral.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water.

A farmer had a problem with pest insects eating the crops. She invested in some pesticide and – easy-peasy – no more pests. Only that isn’t what happened. The pests increased, and the more she sprayed the more the number of pests increased. This is because the pesticide was killing some of the problem pests, but also killing an even bigger amount of useful insects that would have eaten those problem pests. Moreover, her crops gradually became resistant to the pesticide, which necessitated a higher dose; and she and her family got sick when they ate the contaminated crops. In addition the local groundwater became polluted. One problem solved and ten new ones created.

Thinking skills

These anecdotes are all examples of linear thinking – from cause to effect; from problem to solution. It’s the kind of thinking that was positively encouraged in education when school exams began to include a large proportion of tick box answers. Problem à one correct solution. Sorted.

Such linear methods are not just one but two levels below the kind of thinking that’s always been needed and never more than today. With linear thinking we make interventions in the world that are ineffective, inefficient, or have an array of unintended, perverse outcomes.

One level up would be two-dimensional thinking, where there is some sense of a map, with the idea that intervention A causes effect B as intended, but also causes effects C, D and E, each of which needs examination and resolution. More a chess kind of thinking, which robots have learned to perform quite efficiently.

Two levels up would be three-dimensional thinking, illustrated by a globe, where an intervention in any part of the globe creates disturbances in other parts of the globe that in turn affect other different parts of the globe and so on in increasingly complex patterns. Thus, intervention A causes expected effect B, which causes anticipated effects C and D plus unanticipated effects E, F and G, all of which then cause numerous supplementary effects negative and positive, each of which causes other effects and on and on. One example of this is the butterfly effect, where a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico may cause a hurricane in China.

Having written so far, I reflect on the difficulties of working with such complex influences and ask myself what on earth any of us can do that’s useful in the circumstances. I’m helped as often by serendipity – in the shape of this morning’s Desert Island Discs interviewee, Dame Manouche Shafik.

Dame Manouche Shafik

Manouche Shafik is the product of a loving home and a challenging childhood, a pretty good recipe for high achievement. When she was four, her well-to-do Egyptian family lost everything in President Nasser’s nationalisation programme and fled Egypt to start again from scratch in the United States. She became the youngest vice principal of the World Bank and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England before moving to her current position as Director of the London School of Economics.

What are her thoughts on thinking and decision-making?

  1. There’s never just one answer to a problem.
    Civil servants and politicians need to look at an array of options and the costs and benefits of each – i.e. consider babies and bath water, unintended consequences and the rest… three-dimensional thinking.
  2. We need to help the public recognise the difference between expert (3-dimensional) thinking and opinion.
    Experts’ work is backed by the rigours of peer review, the publication of relevant data and a declaration of conflicts of interest, whereas opinions on social media are completely unsupported.
  3. Experts need to be able to explain their views clearly and simply. Manouche Shafik with her colleagues at the Bank of England studied children’s writer Dr/ Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat in a push to make their communications more succinct and understandable for the general public! As Steve Jobs said, ” Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there you can move mountains.”
  4. There’s always an element of uncertainty.
    So humility is always a good thing. Beware people who are 100% certain!

Quite a useful list for any of us. It reminds me that there’s no point in shouting the views of my favourite newspaper against the views of someone else’s, and no point in putting my view more stridently than anyone else’s. That’s today’s political game, and to prevail we need a different strategy based on well-supported data. It means thinking better and teaching our children to think well. It has to include thinking from others’ point of view with emotional intelligence, thinking on different levels including time perspectives and decision-making that’s value-based as well as logic-based.

Elements of Good Thinking

Here’s my resultant checklist for good thinking:

  1. Look at the issue within a larger context – the big picture
  2. Look at the issue from the points of view of other people involved
  3. Examine it from a future perspective, and from past experience.
  4. Decide what matters – what really matters – in considering the issue.
  5. Take time out to allow time for deeper intuition to surface.
  6. Don’t insist on being right. There’s always more.

Whether you’re a leader, manager, consultant, coach, teacher or mentor – if you think better than others you hold the trump card … (Well, you know what I mean – not the same meaning as in to trump something up, which signifies to invent, fabricate, concoct, fake, cook up … funny that …).

Let’s celebrate our intelligent thinkers. Here’s a challenge. Who are the good thinkers of our day? In academia? In politics? In business? What’s your view? Let’s promote them! Who would you put forward?

Go well,

Judy

 

WHAT ELSE?

Winnie the Pooh’s thinking on thinking

(with thanks to A.A. Milne)

 

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
.

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…”

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.

Coaching

What holds you back? You might think that your own particular set of difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how a simple conversation with a coach helps you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. Six months from now you’ll be saying, as other have, I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago! 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? 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.

Newsletter Archive

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

 

 

 

 

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.

I’m Giving Up on Authenticity

Who are you?To spend a life time seeking for one’s authentic self, and then get second thoughts on the whole thing. How come?

I’m giving up on authenticity.

I know, I know – dear authenticity, you have been an aspiration of mine for quite some time. I’ve even sung your praises in print for goodness sake. It’s been a long time … right back to childhood even when my mother younger than I am now used to encourage me before an event, “Just be yourself, dear.”

I didn’t have the faintest idea how to fulfil her wish then, and I’ve been seeking how to ever since. It’s perhaps the quest of our times – find yourself, know who you really are. I’ve done the work like others have – the psychometrics, the MBTI, if you want the proof – and yes, I do know quite a lot about myself. I’m artistic – I know because I create things and people say they like them. I’m shy – because my whole family was shy. I’m quick – and that sometimes makes me ignore the odd detail. I’m kind, kind of, mostly…

But I’m not sure any more that focussing on what I already think I know about myself is helpful. When I say, “I’m that sort of person”, or more often, “I’m not that sort of person” I use it mostly as an excuse or a defence. As in, “I’m not the kind of person to sell myself” or “I’m not the kind of person to demand my rights,” for instance.

A great little book was recommended to me this month. The Path, by Michael Puett and Christine Gros-Loh offers a new way of thinking about ancient Chinese wisdom. The first philosopher discussed, Confucius, was a believer in tiny acts – or rituals – where you practise “as if” – i.e. you act differently to your customary way, and thus gradually habituate yourself to new ways of being and acting in the world. One section headed “The Malleable Self”, sounded like the opposite of “The Authentic Self”, and its ideas resonated with me. It suggested that by sticking to your self-definition of your true self, acting with your usual patterns and self-labels, you might actually harden them, and thus limit yourself.

I’ve always liked the story in Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis about the tennis player with an inadequate volley stroke. Every time the player was at the net he reacted defensively and feebly. His coach asked him to demonstrate how he would like to be able to play at the net, without worrying whether he actually hit the ball or not. After an unsteady start, the player began to show some aggression in his play, and eventually hit a series of fine attacking shots one after the other. Speaking with Tim afterwards, the player said he wished he were able to play like that, but he wasn’t really that sort of person. i.e. The person who had played like that wished he could play like that! He couldn’t in his own map of reality because it wouldn’t have been true to who he was. Think about it.

Neuroscience agrees with the idea of a malleable self. We now know that genes can be switched on and off, and that it’s perfectly possible to create new neural pathways through the brain. We aren’t as fixed as we might like to think.

The idea of a malleable self turns our usual thinking on its head. Instead of a converging quest inwards to find the holy grail of the real genuine me, it suggests I might instead expand into the huge adventure of embracing every possibility of what I could be. What might I not do? Who might I not be!

Most of us are already different with different people (okay, I heard that protest, you may not be.) Have you ever found yourself talking to someone from one part of your life when someone from a completely different part of your life suddenly joins you, and you realise that your usual way of interacting with one is not the way you usually are with the other, and you find yourself nonplussed for a moment?

The ability to choose different ways to respond to people and circumstances is surely relevant to the job of the coach. (or leader, teacher, parent and human being). Our ability to enter the reality of the other person is a major element in connecting and building trust, and it requires us to be flexible – malleable. A coach needs a variety of qualities to be able to relate to and help different people at different times. At one moment the fierce volley shot is just right for a particular coachee; at another the high gentle lob is more successful. But we are only as different as we have the capacity to be, and like in tennis practice helps.

Two questions:

  1. Doesn’t being different things to different people mean you lose your identity.

Not at all. Doing what the occasion requires with flexibility strengthens you and gives you more influence. People feel even more strongly the core of you, which isn’t your behaviours, but the light of consciousness at your centre.

  1. How exactly do you create the possibility of acting differently?

By realising that you can learn to be any way you want to be. Every time you catch the thought, “People like me can’t do that” you can put forward a different thought, “If I want to and believe it’s the thing to do, I can do it.”

In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. Albert Camus

The other thing you can do is to find counter examples. E.g. maybe you’re too impatient to find out what’s wrong with your computer; but you have huge patience in working out a complex pattern in sewing. So patience and you are already well acquainted. You may not speak up when something is wrong at work, but when your child suffered an injustice you did speak up, so you have done it and know how to.

So three cheers for the great ocean of possibility today.

Okay authenticity, I know there’s a different side to you too – the ability to be real, not fake, trustworthy not perfidious, and genuine and honest, not disingenuous. I just thought there for a moment you were trying to box me in – when I’m ready to fly.

But, Peter, how do we get to Never Land?

(says Wendy in Disney’s Peter Pan)

Fly, of course!
Fly!
It’s easy! All you have to do is to is to is to
Huh That’s funny!
What’s the matter?
Don’t you know?
Oh sure, it’s, it’s just that I never thought about it before
Say, that’s it! You think of a wonderful thought!
Any happy little thought?
Uhhuh

You just imagine you can do it.
Go well everyone,
Judy

What else?

Dip into my Books for help with communication, presenting and voice … life even …

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. 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.

Speak Easy: The essential guide to speaking in public

This book by my New Zealand friend, Maggie Eyre, gives you great tips on public speaking. Contact her if you’re down under and need help with public speaking – she has coached the best, including most notably former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Download any 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

 

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