Recharging

2nd LawAnd so it goes on.

Clocks go back.

I fell down a rabbit hole again today.

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

So I looked it up:

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

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

Flat

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

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

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

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

What’s depleting your energy?

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

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

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

And the battery runs down.

Move a little

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equilibrium

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

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

(See my Cat Repose Practice below)

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

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

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

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

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

Judy

Also:

Breathe Like a Cat in Repose

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

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

My TEDx Talk 

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

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

Coaching in 2020

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

Simple short ecourses

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

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

Talks

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

My Books

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Kind of Unmasking

Well, there’s more than one kind of mask

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

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

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

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

The masks we wear

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

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

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

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

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

Unmasking

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

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

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

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

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

 

What else?

My TEDx Talk has a complementary theme

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

A book for our times

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

Coaching

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

My books

9780857088079

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

When Despair for the World Grows in Me

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

Sending you all love and hope.

Judy

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

History: from 1066 and All That:

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

“Miss, who says so.”

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

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

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

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

English:

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

Interruption: “Miss, who says so?”

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Understand that facts depend on your perspective

Example of male perspective:

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

Examples of wealth perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My hope

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

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

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

I’m sure the remarkable Greta Thunberg would agree.

Warm good wishes to all,

Judy

 

Plus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Tim Salau’s My Weekend Read:

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

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

Coaching

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

Talks

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

The first springtime of my life

The Thrree Witches

The Thrree Witches

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

 

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

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

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

If anything, I’ve turned to philosophy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Wishing you so well,
Judy

 

Connection …

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

Connection Space

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

 

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.

Creeping Change

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coolantarctica.om

They say don’t trust experts.
DO trust experts

But we live in shifty times,

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

And then to trust ourselves.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go well,

Judy

 

The Art of Communication and REQUEST

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

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

TEDx Talk

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

Want a few tips at home?

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

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

Want some help moving forward?

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

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

My other books

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

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

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

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

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

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,

Judy

PS

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 TED.com in about 4-5 weeks.

THE ART OF COMMUNICATION
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 BROWN AND THE CALL TO COURAGE
Brene, famous for her TED Talk on Vulnerability, has given a longer talk for Netflix. Here’s the trailer.

COACHING AND TRAINING and TALKS
Contact me directly at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk to enquire about possibilities.

BOOKS
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

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?!

 

WHAT ELSE?

I’m excited about this!

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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

https://globalcooperationhouse.org/whatson-full/singleeevent/58528

More details here

 

Want to read an excerpt from The Art of Communication?

Here’s a short excerpt published in the online magazine, Minutehack  –https://minutehack.com/opinions/more-than-words-the-art-of-communication

 

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

Judy

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,
Judy

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.

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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

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.