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,


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.


Do You Have Agency?


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.


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,



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.


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.


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


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

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

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

Creeping Change

They say don’t trust experts.
DO trust experts

But we live in shifty times,

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

And then to trust ourselves.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go well,



The Art of Communication and REQUEST

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

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

TEDx Talk

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

Want a few tips at home?

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

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

Want some help moving forward?

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

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

My other books

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

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

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

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

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

Who gave you permission to be you?

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 09.27.05What situation do you hate most to find yourself in? Do you cringe at rejection? Do you loathe being ignored? Do you hate it if people look down on you?

I hate to feel stupid. I’m very happy to dance around, be bold, even to look an idiot in various ways … but not to feel stupid.

I’m sure it has a history. When I got a scholarship to a private school, I mixed with girls who came from wealthy families, and my parents used to joke (half-joke) at home that we might be poor but we were clever. I’ve since realised that our idea of cleverness of that time was fairly limited, but still the mantra helped me, back in the day. It became important to feel clever.

The trouble is, some of these feelings still bug me today. My family will tell you that no one gets more grumpy than me when I am filling in a tax form and don’t understand what they are getting at, or when I meet a problem with my laptop and can’t find a solution. I then feel stupid, and being stupid is just not okay.


Such gremlins hold us back. What might you not do if you were willing to look stupid? What might you accomplish if it was fine for people to reject your ideas? Or if other people’s disdain just made you more energised and positive?

I’m constantly amazed at how much negative stuff we carry around with us, convinced that it is a necessary part of who we are, though it does us no good at all. We have shed every last physical cell of the person we were twenty years ago so we’re a completely different person physically, yet we still carry an inflexible historical mental idea of who we are. I’m this sort of person, not that sort of person; I can do this but not that; I believe this to be possible and not that.


New York Times’ best-selling author Meg Wolitzer’s recent book, The Female Persuasion – as indeed her other books too – looks at the impact of small acts of kindness in people’s lives. She gives the example of a teacher in grade school who would write down the stories Meg told her, and who gave her the great gift of starting to take herself seriously. She writes a startling question in that book,

Who gives us all permission to be the person that we walk around the world as?

I think it’s much easier to answer the question, who in your life stopped you from being who you might have been? It’s much easier too, if we are lucky in life, and particularly if we socialise with people similar to ourselves, to acquire the habit of thinking that we arrived where we are solely through our own efforts. It feels good to think, “I did it myself” when we are successful; and to forget supportive parents, inherited money, prestigious school that led to prestigious university that led to perfect qualifications including accent, style etc. for prestigious job, advantageous relationships and so on (or any elements of the above).

But Wolitzer’s question, who gave you permission to be the person that you walk around the world as? That’s much more interesting. Who helped you in your sense of yourself?

If I were to start a list of people randomly now, there would be:

My Mum who introduced me to books with enthusiasm when I was very small.

My Dad who was resourceful in practical things and lent me resourcefulness too.

The girl with Down’s Syndrome who taught me in her singing that confidence is for everyone.

The colleague who in a simple sentence gave me the belief to move on.

As I start to write, I realise that I could continue this list for quite a while. What about you?

Permission is a central concept in my voice work with people. Many difficulties with expression are associated with tension, particularly around the neck, throat and shoulders, which prevents free spontaneous expression. Often it’s chronic tension associated with times when the person was diminished in some way in earlier life. In the present, this tension announces forcefully that expressing oneself is fraught with danger; and so it inhibits communication, and prevents a person from being who they can be. It disallows. Releasing the tension (a physical and mental process) allows the person to find their real voice again.

All the more important to seek out and appreciate people who allow, who give you permission.

Who are the people who, maybe in small acts of kindness, have given you permission to think well of yourself and prosper? It might make you gasp to realise how often other people have helped and still do help you on your way.

The corollary, of course, is that we too are enablers. How many times, in small forgotten acts or minor serendipities, have you given someone else permission? You can’t always know. Maybe you have done that again and again in your life. No one’s given you a gong for it, but you certainly deserve it.


By the way, I must tell you about my Meg Wolitzer serendipity. Checking her quote about permission yesterday in an online article, I idly looked further and discovered that my local library had an available copy of her latest novel. I walked into town to the library. Opposite the entrance as you enter there’s a display stand of books to catch the eye of the visitor in a hurry. There, at the dead centre of the front row of this prominent display, was the very Wolitzer novel I had come to look for. How many novels does the library hold? I love coincidences, don’t you?

Enjoy your summer. Go well,



TEDx Norwich
I had an amazing time in Norwich for TEDx @tedxnorwich last week – “Butterflies and Sweaty Palms” definitely in general evidence before the event! Met some brilliant people. The Talks will be up on in about 4-5 weeks.

If you’d like to dip into my latest book, you can read an excerpt here. You’ll find the 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 a pandemic, 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.

Think about those small acts of kindness in your life, those people were being real, weren’t they?

Brene, famous for her TED Talk on Vulnerability, has given a longer talk for Netflix. Here’s the trailer.

Contact me directly at to enquire about possibilities.

Find my books listed here. All available at bookshops and usual online outlets in hardback, electronic and audio.

The Noble Art of Going Backwards

ay_110912281-e1369678833423Did you know that the first Ford car had no reverse gear?

I know of a 95 year old who gave up using reverse on his car, as he had little flexibility to see what was happening behind. Fortunately, the local church that was his Sunday morning destination had a very large turning circle in front and other churchgoers knew when to look scarce.

A fly trying to escape from a room has a single-choice plan – throw yourself forward at the light. As a strategy it sucks – glass windows have been around for over 500 years; but it’s hard to fault the logic: “Why choose reverse when your goal is ahead of you!


Reversibility is a feature of Moshe Feldenkrais’s Feldenkrais Method, one of several 20th Century movements that connect mind and body. His method of teaching self-awareness through movement attributed great importance to the concept of reversibility. It basically meant the capacity to stop a movement at any point and then go in the opposite direction with a minimum of hesitation, and this was a key criterion for determining whether a particular movement was done well. Try it for yourself: slowly lower yourself onto a low sofa and change your mind just as you touch the cushion! Most people just collapse for the last few centimetres!

Feldenkrais was also a practitioner of the martial arts, and I discovered in my own pursuit of Aikido the importance of being sufficiently balanced to reverse a movement in an eye-blink when required. It’s a great feeling, to have charge of your body in this way.

All very good, but most of us, I suspect, think far more about the route forward towards our goals than about possible routes backwards.

And yet, there are advantages to going backwards …

A strange thing happens in yoga connected with reversibility: when I have reached the limit of my stretch in a particular direction, if I imagine slackening off the effort in that direction and coming away from my edge, my body sometimes goes easily beyond that limit in that same direction, even way beyond, when the feeling has been one of giving myself permission to give up altogether! Pushing forwards isn’t always the best strategy for moving forwards.

The story goes that the scientist Marie Curie found the answer to a problem she’d been tussling with for 3 years the night after she let go of it for good. It’s not unusual.

The idea of flexibility, including the ability to reverse at will, has been part of my thinking for quite some time. I mention reversibility only briefly in my latest book, The Art of Communication, but the concept is there in almost every page. Conversation is an impromptu activity. However much you plan what you’re going to say in advance, you’ll be very lucky if it goes that way. Conversation just isn’t like that; you have to be light on your feet, ready to twist in a different direction at any point in the dance. In fact, any real response is always a flexible one.

We all need a reverse gear. And particularly now, when the world is more than ever hunkering down into different camps, each reading only its own material, believing its own half-truths and relating to other groups only in dichotomous terms of us good, you bad; us right, you wrong (“I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re little. I’m right; you’re wrong.” as Matilda’s Dad famously said with similarly suspect erudition).

Pushing rigidly forward is always to miss a trick. When you get into an argument, it’s always useful to change the pace by agreeing with something, however tangential. It’ll certainly change the other person’s rhythm and give you the opportunity to throw something different into the mix. And if you’re relentlessly pushing yourself toward a goal of your own, it’s always helpful to take a day or a week off and turn to something quite different – trekking, cycling, exploring – it clears your head and frees you up again.

My flexibility challenge

My weekly yoga class has come round again. My flexibility challenge for today is to stand on one leg for a minute without holding on. (Try it: good for your bones quite apart from the experiment.) Then ask yourself, “What makes for success in this particular endeavour?” On trying it myself, I think it’s this:

  • infinite micro-adjustments
  • lack of self-consciousness
  • the spirit of fun or at least experiment (i.e. not trying too hard)
  • confidence
  • … and keeping your eyes open!

Well, there’s a “Thought for Life” for today?!



I’m excited about this!


I’ll be one of the speakers for this TEDx event on 13 July  in Norwich – “Europe’s only Full Day TEDxED event”, as the organisers remind me!

Tickets apparently vanish very quickly, so buy yours in the next couple of days if you want to come!

You can meet several of the speakers tonight on Facebook Live- #tedxnorwiched – from 7.30 pm. See you there?


Spirit of Coaching

It’s a while since we held one of these beautiful events in London. Just to remind you, there is no charge, but you need to register.

Screenshot 2019-05-15 at 10.03.41

More details here


Want to read an excerpt from The Art of Communication?

Here’s a short excerpt published in the online magazine, Minutehack  –


The days are getting long; the sun’s shining as I write this :-)
Go well,


Leave the Door to the Unknown Ajar

My book’s out!

Screenshot 2019-02-10 at 14.44.47I was very excited last week to receive the first copies of my new book, The Art of Communication. It explores ways not only to build the skills to converse well but how to reach each other at a level where trust blossoms and new possibilities arise between you. The possibility of more fruitful connection and cooperation has deep implications, not only for success in our everyday encounters, but also for our planet in this century of change.

I do encourage you to buy a copy, and if you enjoy it as I very much hope you will, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d write a review on Amazon.

(Incidentally, I notice that for a short time, my previous book, The Art of Conversation, is considerably reduced.)


And heres my blog, “Leaving the Door to the Unknown Ajar”

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 16.38.35A car journey yesterday morning, listening to the radio, and by the time I arrived at the swimming pool two programmes had caught my attention.

The first was Jim Al Khalili interviewing neuroscientist Irene Tracey for The Life Scientific on the subject of pain. In her research she discovered that major factors in the severity of pain are brain related. Fear, anxiety, depression and anticipation of pain all increase the severity; distraction diminishes it. In one experiment Tracey and her team monitored the experience of pain (caused by chilli paste, being one of few legal ways to administer pain!) suffered by subjects while they lay in a scanner. A continuous intravenous dose of an opioid, highly effective at killing pain, was administered to the subjects. The experimenters then pretended to the subjects that they stopped the opioid while in fact continuing to administer it. At this point, the subject’s experience of pain rose sharply, even though the opioid hadn’t been stopped. So expectation overrode even the best pain relief on the market. Our brain can literally turn pain up and down, irrespective of the actual cause of pain.

I then listened to an interview between Alan Rusbridger, ex-editor of the Guardian, and Jonathan Aitken. Aitken is currently a prison chaplain, but back in 1999 he was a highflying cabinet minister who was accused of perjury (it was Alan Rusbridger and the Guardian who called him to account) and convicted in a high profile libel trial. On the day of his trial, he went from being served coffee in bed by his long-standing butler in his beautiful accommodation a stone’s throw from Parliament to spending his first night in a solitary cell in Belmarsh prison to the accompaniment of prisoners chanting about the arrival of a Member of Parliament and what they might do to him the following day. When asked about the positives of prison for him, Aitken replied that he had enjoyed the company of his fellow prisoners “and this was a surprise to me.” “In prison I made one or two real and lasting friendships.” He goes on to describe how his increasing understanding of the lives of others came as a revelation to him.

So two programmes, and in my mood this morning, they said the same thing to me, “Don’t think you know.” I could be certain about an experience of pain and Irene Tracey would prove to me that I was ignorant. Jonathan Aitken, together with many colleagues in the Conservative Party, might think he knew exactly how to deal with policing and prisons, but coming up close he was brought to realise that the whole business of how people come to end up in jail was far more complex than he had thought.

We don’t know. We never know. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …” Or as a prominent scientist says, quoted in The Art of Communication:

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

Why on earth write this at a time when decisions are desperately called for in the Brexit saga? Yes, politicians need to make decisions, but all these violently-strong opinions have been doing us no good. It seems more important in today’s craziness to realise that we don’t know than to know that we know. Like most of the UK, I’m raging about Brexit, absolutely sure that my opinions – the opinions of my particular herd – are the right ones. The more I read, in the carefully filtered posts adapted so assiduously to my views that my social media channels so calculatingly give me, the more my rage builds with a sense of my tribe’s rightness.

But it’s false rage, manufactured by the crowd effect, mischievously stirred by news outlets and social media. If I know only because my crowd knows, what sort of certainty is that? Not knowing is not feeble. Not knowing doesn’t preclude decision and action. We do the research like Irene Tracey, we discover our blind spots like Jonathan Aitken. Above all, we open our minds and pay exquisite attention. We work with that. But it isn’t the witless stance of those who are blithely sure they know. In positions of power these are dangerous fools. It’s up to the rest of us to call them accurately to account, while at the same time leaving the door to the unknown ajar. It leaves sanity in the room.

Just found a nice quote in Osho’s book, Intelligence:

Intelligence is just an openness of being – capacity to see without prejudice, capacity to listen without interference, capacity to be with things without any a priori ideas about them – that’s what intelligence is. Intelligence is an openness of being.

Keeping the door of the mind ajar … whatever our responsibilities. Does any of this apply to the current situation, business and families and relationships and you and me? Maybe it just does. J

Go well,

More news

The psychotherapist Juliet Grayson is a finalist in The People’s Prize for her book, Landscapes of the Heart: the Working World of a Sex and Relationship Therapist. Her work is always interesting and valuable. You can vote for her here.

Want a few tips at home?

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

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

Want some help moving forward?

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

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

Learning and Unlearning



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,


The Art of Communication

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


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.

What do you want?

reach for the stars

reach for the stars

“What do you want?” Everyone seems to be asking it at the moment. “What do you want for Christmas? Make a list!” So then I put pen to paper and – with difficulty – try to decide, “What do I want? Mmm …” A contemporary suggested it’s the phrase that parents say to their children all the time these days, “What do you want?” “What do you want to wear?”  “What do you want for supper?” – as opposed to the “Eat what you’re given” attitude in our day.

It’s the perennial coaching question too, “What do you want?” Almost every model of coaching is goal or outcome oriented: “Yes, you’ve described your problem, yes, I understand that life is currently hell … and now, what do you want?”

I’d like to identify two kinds of wants for the moment. One is the choice want. “What do you want for supper? There’s sausages or macaroni cheese.” And even if you’re not particularly partial to either, you run a sort of test inside, this or that? By the way – info here – you are not expected to answer, “Neither. I really fancy an avocado salad.” And mostly you don’t even think of saying that, you understand it’s about choosing. It’s what John Whitmore is chiefly talking about in his GROW coaching model (Goal, Reality, Options, Will). You have a Goal, which does not match your current Reality. You discuss various Options for reaching your goal, and then choose your best option, what you Will do.

There’s another kind of want. Someone asked me once, “How on earth did you manage to write a whole book?” and I was nonplussed for a moment. The truthful answer was, “Because I wanted to,” but that want was a big all-consuming one that had a lot of emotional energy in it. I really wanted to write that book; I desired it.

Such a funny word desire. It’s the devilish tempter in religion, using its power to lead us astray, away from duty, purity and obedience. So it makes a lot of us uneasy. But in its essence it’s what gives our life meaning and moves us to create and accomplish. Desire is a wonderful, passionate, powerful force that takes us over and makes accomplishment effortless. Remember when you’ve had it. You suddenly get a joyful urge to do something, accompanied (temporarily at least) with a confidence that it is possible. You might meet obstacles further on, (you probably will), but desire launches you into creativity an action. “I know!” you think, “I’ll plant tulips in the lawn, and next spring it’ll look amazing!” “I know!” you think, “I’ll invite my new friends to supper, and we’ll have an amazing evening.” “I know!” you think, “I’ll build a boat!” And the powerful feeling of want fills you, warms you and energises you.

When the Magisterium condemns emotion in its determination to save us from temptation and sin, it is trying to cut off a limb. Desire or wanting is vital to our navigation through life. Every creative step is a step into the unknown. Reason or good sense doesn’t provide an adequate compass, but that vibration of desire often does. And it matures when you begin to trust it.

“What do you want?”

“And what do you really want?”

“And, having that, what do you have and what do you really want?”

And eventually, you feel the throbbing joy of knowing, “Yes, that is what I want.”

As part of a major de-cluttering exercise I’ve been up in the loft sorting through old drawings and paintings. It hit me forcibly when I saw paintings I’d completely forgotten about that I’d created in my twenties. I really liked some of them. The energy and desire I’d experienced at the time came flooding right back. What a joy it was to play with paint at that time! I just really wanted to create a picture. I didn’t think about whether a painting was good or not – I threw my everything into it and it just was.

The years pass. You live in the real world now – career, responsibility, children maybe. And doubt creeps in, especially that greyest of all doubts – is this thing really worth doing? Wants become so subsumed into the needs of life and others that it’s hard to know what you want any more.

I want to remember that  “I threw my everything into it and it just was”. Are you tempted too? What might we do this month with that kind of joyful energy?

Or … let’s go for it … what about lending that attitude to whatever we do for a while?   Did you know that the word desire comes from the Latin phrase, de sidere, “from the stars”? Let’s follow our star!

Good month for it! :-)

Here’s wishing you a happy time.



Want a book?

My new book, The Art of Communication, is due out on 22 March. Pre-order for Christmas? You can, here.

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.

Want a few tips 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

Want some help?

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.

“Beliefs are sacrosanct.” … Interesting belief …


kisspng-cadaver-death-clip-art-corpse-5b21603151dc00.4161339415289139693353There’s an old story I first heard from Robert Dilts. A man in a mental institution believes that he’s dead. No one is able to shake him of this belief. The doctor asks him, “Do dead people bleed?” “Of course not!” replies the man. So the therapist pricks the patient (is this allowed?) and shows him the drop of blood. “Well, darn me,” exclaims the patient, “Dead people do bleed!”

Beliefs can be tricksters.

We like to think we can influence and persuade people, but on the whole people don’t give up their beliefs easily. One of the problems with beliefs is their uncertain provenance. We might like to categorise them as items of logic and back them up with more or less rational arguments, but they are actually made up of a curious complex blend of pictures/videos, internal dialogue and sensations/feelings. This foundation is rarely examined, yet provides the basis for beliefs that can be exceedingly strong. Beliefs are seldom changed by any weight of evidence to the contrary, as you may well have found with people you know.

Let me think of a couple of examples:

As a child, I excelled at school though I was very young for my class. I liked to believe that I was cleverer than anyone else, particularly cleverer since I was so young. It certainly gave me a sense of self-worth – oh, okay, superiority. The fact that my father was highly intelligent and that my mother was an early nurturer and natural teacher wasn’t part of my thinking. I believed that I did well because I was clever. My rational “because-s” were all about self-merit.

The “I’m better than you” belief of superiority is common. A friend of mine voted UKIP in the last couple of elections. He believes that we get to where we are through merit, and that if people are poor they are in that situation through their own failings. He has plenty of supportive evidence: look, they’re scroungers; look, they are poor but spend loads on cigarettes and alcohol; look, they waste their free education, and so on. His father was a self-made immigrant who created a successful business from nothing. My friend kept the business running, from his father’s solid financial base and after a secure childhood and splendid private education. But he needs to believe that he too is self-made and got to where he is entirely on his own merits. This isn’t unique — American presidents do the same. The edifice of his belief in merit stands on the shaky foundation of a highly personal belief that feels entirely necessary, but isn’t in fact true.

The generality of beliefs makes them dangerous

Such beliefs are generalisations accumulated from memories consisting of images, sounds and feelings. Once installed, plenty of instances are found to shore it up, creating a sense of infallibility. The foundations of the belief remain unseen and unexamined. If challenged, we find plausible (to us) justifications for any anomalies. Other people’s counter-arguments won’t shake our beliefs, as they’re not based on logical arguments. The core sensory base of beliefs lies in hidden unexamined depths and, remaining hidden, remains immune to examples to the contrary, however many thousands are produced.

The generality of beliefs makes them especially dangerous. This plays out to our cost in many ways.

We stick to our theories, our political parties, our political champions, our beliefs about climate change or abortion, our religions however fundamental or whacky, our faith in legal systems, systems of government, ideas of justice, fairness and on and on. And we do it by alighting on every piece of evidence that supports our beliefs and by selective blindness to anything that challenges them. Even worse, in today’s increased divisiveness we move more and more in a world that supplies that evidence – our favourite TV channels and newspapers, the areas we live in, the schools and religious institutions we attend, the jobs we do, the people we mix with, all heavily supported by social media and advertising that gives us more of that world and hides other information from us.

Changing beliefs

The obvious next question, if that is the case, is how to change beliefs that constrict us or harm others. Many people have found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) useful as a way of challenging unhelpful thinking. But that logical approach doesn’t as a rule address the hidden core of beliefs. One of the reasons I have always liked NLP is because it examines the concealed parts of our belief system, those illogical, hard to understand parts of our psyche.

We can change beliefs, but seldom through information, not always instantly and not always easily. We change them through personal experiences that shift our view.

An experience of change

I believed for many years that my time at university had been a time of struggle with timidity and loneliness. It fit with my personal autobiography and I had a consistent internal dialogue to go with it.

Then, not so long ago, I met a good friend from university after many years’ gap. He reminded me of some of the bold things I did when I was president of the music club and of late nights of fun and laughter we had with friends. As he recounted these stories, I recognised they were true – his stories resonated with me and prompted more of my own. I suddenly remembered doing mad somersaults on a summer lawn. I’d shut down that whole part of my university life under the generalised belief that the three years had been an emotional struggle. It was wonderfully stimulating to remember there was a different side to it too. Not only that, the freeing of those memories allowed other memories of past joys to surface. I felt lighter and energised… and more me, if I can put it like that.

So my hold on a belief was loosened through connection with an old friend. We can also change beliefs through our own efforts. It’s many years since I read Susan Jeffers’ much imitated Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which encourages us to step little by little out of our comfort zone. But she was right: it’s in new experiences that we expose our existing beliefs to the light and grow as a person. Every time we talk genuinely to someone different from us, every time we experience at first hand a different culture (not just from a tour bus), every time we walk through a different bit of town or read an author who takes us into a different world, every small new experience of different ways of being rattles our belief system entrapped in its cage.

Does it need to be rattled? Does it matter? Does it matter really? Yes, it matters. It’s life and death to the whole planet. How else are we going to get out of the narrow boxes created by the hotchpotch of human beliefs that separate us from each other, and begin to care enough about the rest of the planet to make the changes that will save all of us?

I mean, how? … !

Go well,

The only source of knowledge is experience. Albert Einstein


A new book!

I’ve just finished The Art of Communication: How to Be Authentic, Lead Others and Create Strong Connections, and it’s published by Capstone on 22 March 2019 – you can already pre-book it on Amazon. Here’s the blurb:

How do you have a conversation that feels deeply worthwhile and satisfying to both parties? The usual communication strategies of being informed and articulate, impressive in debate and persuasive in manner don’t create great conversations.

The Art of Communication shows you how to enjoy conversations that are more genuine, more energising, more creative and generally much more productive. Neuroscience is confirming that creative and meaningful conversation depends on the often-neglected attention of the right hemisphere of the brain as much as the well-practised patterns and certainties of the left-brain.

You’ll learn how to make a step-change, into a world where intuition, open-heartedness, spontaneity, lightness of touch and ease with uncertainty are as important as rational thinking.

Hope you’re tempted!

My other 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.

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.


It is always worthwhile to go to a coach before you give an important presentation or speech. It’s not a matter of just knowing that you’re going to get it right; it’s discovering the frame of mind that transforms how you come across to others. And such a discovery will stand you in good stead for a lifetime …











Newsletter, August 2018 – Stuff on the Brain

split brainWhat’s neuroscience telling us about how we communicate with each other? August. Blue skies; hot; and I’ve got my head down to finish my latest book for an October deadline. Yesterday, I reviewed some material on the neuropsychologist Roger Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on split-brain patients — i.e. hospital patients whose corpus callosum has been severed for medical reasons so that the two hemispheres cannot connect in the normal way. He showed how patients functioned when they had access to only one hemisphere of the brain, and the results were startling.

Left hemisphere of the brain

Though every thought and action lights up cells on both sides of the brain, Sperry demonstrated that the two hemispheres have very different ways of attending. The left-brain accumulates evidence piece by piece to build a picture. It excels at logical thinking, abstraction and generalisation – great for business plans and financial models. However, without the balance of the right brain, it ignores evidence that it doesn’t like or understand and even invents what’s missing to make things fit. It is sure of its rightness, and becomes angry if challenged. It can only hold a view that excludes its opposite – if I’m right, you’re wrong.

Left brain pre-eminence

Sperry worried that both science and our education system neglect and discriminate against the right brain’s nonverbal form of intellect. You certainly don’t have to look far today to see the left-brain’s pre-eminence.

It’s there in legal language – a barrister accumulates proof and builds a case. S/he brings under scrutiny evidence that makes the case and leaves aside information that doesn’t support the case.

Left-brain thinking is usually in charge when countries come into conflict. Influencers build up evidence against another country or people, piece by piece, sifting for negative information, maybe even inventing when information is missing, until they reach a tipping point in public perception and the case is made for war.

It happens too with groups — immigrants for instance. They are marginalised bit by bit, especially in the media, the case against them moving from unwanted foreign customs and beliefs to jobs usurped, drugs imported, crimes committed, piling negative on negative.

It’s the path to divorce too. The person you loved and married starts to display faults and commit unwelcome actions after a while, and so you begin to notice their failings, and then only their failings, and you build a dossier against them piece by piece, until nothing remains but anger and disdain.

It’s even the perfect way to increase your own unhappiness. Something unfortunate happens to you – perhaps you break your arm … and it’s on the very day you were selected for a prestigious football team; which makes you remember how jealous your lucky substitute has always been of you — and how mean to you … which come to think of it is a characteristic of your boss who has never given you the credit you deserve … let alone the promotion…. And so you accumulate negative items of evidence one by one, till you are thoroughly unhappy and almost savouring the addition of further reasons for feeling so wretched.

I’m aware that I’m doing the same with Brexit and Trump. I feed my opinions and feelings with articles from my favourite newspaper and TV programmes and sort for negatives. Algorithms accentuate this effect, as social media brings me only information that reinforces and strengthens my existing viewpoint. I can feel myself becoming less and less understanding of people who have opposing views; angry almost that they can be so — what? ignorant? stupid? callous? — to think as they do…

Travels in Trumpland

… which is why the programme, Travels in Trumpland with Ed Balls, unsettled me when I eventually caught up with it last night. Ed visits various venues in Trump heartlands and attempts to discover what is at the heart of people’s voting choices.

He takes part in a wrestling match, and the organiser shows just how easy it is to build up an act – it’s all an act – so that the good guys from the US win (“U-S-A!! U-S-A!!”) and the bad guy loses (“Booooo!! Ed Balls character from the UK, “Booooo!!”). The sight of 400 people all screaming insults in the same direction after such a short build-up is a scary reminder of how easy it is to sway a crowd with simple messages against a bogeyman.

But the reason the programme disturbed me wasn’t that. It was the authenticity of people who voted for Trump. Ed Balls was moved almost to tears by some of his experiences with the people he met. They had their own reasons for voting the way they did — reasons that showed something of the complexity of familiarity, story, passion, fear, feeling and thinking that informs life choices. It made me uneasy to be forced to remember that a situation is never as black and white as I’d like it to be. Seeing the fuller picture, I couldn’t quite convince myself that – had I their situation, knowledge, history etc. – I wouldn’t have voted as they did. It made me expand my frame of reference, and shift a little from certainty towards doubt.

Right hemisphere

And here, we’re in right-brain territory. Unlike the left hemisphere with its manipulation of pieces of data and generalisation, the right hemisphere has a more holistic comprehension of this messy reality here and now. It comes at the truth by means of intuition, imagination and a feel for context, with an awareness of complexity and nuance, and appreciation of metaphor, symbol, paradox and humour. It has a deeper understanding than the left hemisphere, but at the same time, since life is never neat, it is more open to doubt.

I get the feeling that a bit of travelling in Trumpland or similar with the right hemisphere of our brain awake and aware wouldn’t be a bad thing.

So here are my thoughts for you and me:

When you find yourself mentally building evidence against someone, stop. Tell your left-brain to hold off. Invite your right-brain to the party. Notice positive characteristics in this person – any tiny ones will do. Imagine the history that has brought them to this point. Visualise a different future for your relationship. Create a mental comic strip of you and the other person in the same frame and capture its humour.

Your left-brain won’t like it; it takes the world seriously and at face value; AND it believes very strongly that it’s right and should be in charge. But the right-brain in its heart of hearts (and the right-brain is the expert here) knows that the certainty of the left-brain is an illusion. The right-brain understands the complementary roles of the two hemispheres and unlike the left knows our need for both.

So let’s listen to the intuition of our right-brain. Many times at work or at home, we’ll achieve a better outcome by getting a holistic view of the situation,

  • By shifting — stepping into the others’ shoes and seeing it from their point of view
  • By imagining — asking ourselves what our most inspiring hero – or our mother or a child or the divine — would say about the situation
  • By looking down on the situation from a distance and describing what we see
  • And by realising that humour, counter-intuition and paradox all have a place in our whole-mind (head, body, heart and soul) brain

“The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul.” Mark Twain

Right, back to writing. The Masterclass on 17 October (see below) is based on my new book, so I hope you’ll sign up below and be one of the first to enjoy some fascinating material and experience.

Go well,

Judy J


Book NOW for my
One-day Masterclass on 17 October

Coaching and the HeART of Conversation

in Guildford, (courtesy of Guildford Coaches Group)
for coaches and all who are interested in real communication

What does the different attention of the two hemispheres of the brain tell us about our communication with each other? And how do we bring the full presence of our humanity into our coaching and conversation to create something genuinely new.

You’ll learn:

* How different qualities of attention achieve different results and how the
attention of the right brain is essential for meaningful conversation

* With fresh understanding what it means to be real in communication – even if
we think we already know J

* How to be fully empathetic without being dragged into the other person’s mire

* How to run with the unpredictability and natural spontaneity of a coaching
conversation and catch deeper insights on the wing?

A rich day of lively exploration and personal experience with the aim of allowing something new to emerge in each of us. I do hope you can join me for this special one-day event.

Book here   (Note special prices for Guildford Coach Group Members)

Ian McGilchrist

Ian read English at Oxford and then retrained in medicine as a psychiatrist and he brings this broad perspective to his writing. His book, The Master and His Emissary, is a brilliant exposition of the roles of the two hemispheres of the brain. The webpage link I’ve given you also displays a great RSA short animation of the ideas in the book. The book is long, so if you want the taster-version, try his The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning on Kindle.

My Books

My latest book comes out next spring. The others are:

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication (Capstone)

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies (Wiley)

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence (Crown House)

Voice of Influence – How to Get People to Love to Listen to You (Crown House)

Download an E-course

(I never share your email with anyone. I’ve updated the links, so if you’ve been unable to download an e-course in the past, they work now!)

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


Edwin Markham’s lovely short poem, Outwitted, is about having a heart large enough to make space for you and another.

Right-brain attention, definitely:

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !