Self-conscious, Unconscious, Conscious …

Hakuin

Hakuin’s circle

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

Bulldozer

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

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

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

The cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What isn’t possible then?!

Greetings everyone! Go well.

Judy

 

What else?

My Books

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

Voice and Communication Coaching

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

Download some of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

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

The Double Bind of Performance Anxiety

Performance AnxietyDo you ever suffer from performance anxiety? Most of us do at times.

It seems to me that people’s communication difficulties can quite often be summed up as follows:

  1. They hold a fixed image of what excellence looks like – a platonic ideal if you like.
  2. They have a negative image of their own performance that doesn’t match up to the ideal.
  3. They have decided that their performance has got to look like their ideal of excellence – only it doesn’t.

Result: Impasse. They’re stuck.

People tend to express stuckness by freezing. They are literally petrified (turned to stone). When you’re petrified, your body becomes rigid and unbending; your voice become inflexible and monotonous, and your brain becomes inelastic and turgid.

Many react to freezing by trying very hard, but the effort results in stiffness and rigidity nonetheless. Their over-reliance on preparation and control always produces a predictable and inflexible delivery.

What do the best performers do?

So what might we learn from the best performers? Well, let’s acknowledge first of all, they’re not immune to fear – far from it, there are innumerable examples of brilliant performers who suffer from severe stage fright – I recount some of them in my books. But they don’t insist on a particular ideal of perfection, so they’re not caught in that double bind of gotta/can’t.

The best performers leap into their fear, which means letting go of expectation, and accepting that today’s performance – however it turns out – is today’s, maybe the best or maybe not, but unique and unrepeatable.

So, for example, Dame Judy Dench doesn’t have a set prepared way of performing and prefers live performance to film just because it isn’t fixed. An interviewer suggested to her that the secret to it all is preparation, and she disagreed:

No, I like to feel real fear. … It’s to do with freefalling. I think that’s exactly what it is.

She added,

I find it too hard to cope (in film) with that idea that you can’t change it. I love the way in theatre that you can change it every night. (from an interview with Rim Adams in The Observer)

In my book Butterflies and Sweaty Palms, I record driving some actors to a filming session and watching Monty Python comedian John Cleese record a business video for Video Arts. The same short scene was repeated several times, and each time Cleese played his part a little differently, every time wonderfully funny. His variations kept the rest of the cast on their toes, and at times they struggled to keep a straight face as he produced an unexpected comic twist or trick of timing. On one take, no one could hold it any longer, and the scene collapsed into general laughter. They achieved some great takes that day.

Performing well is very different from getting it right. It’s an act of creation – re-creation if you like – and however consistent the content every performance is different. Top musicians understand this well. There’s no definitive performance; today’s performance is today’s; tomorrow’s belongs to tomorrow – however familiar, it’s all exploration; it’s all play.

Stuckness in life

Now that translates into life too. In the charming novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, the protagonist Jean Perdu remains stuck for 20 years, unable to love again because of a disastrous love affair  in his youth. Things change only when at last he’s able to look at what happened in the face and therefore let go.

An impasse is like a syllogism that doesn’t work:

I left my boyfriend for my career, and good people don’t do that.

I’m a good person.

I did that.

Just another variation on gotta/can’t.

So long as we cling to certainty about the rightness of our thinking, the logic doesn’t work, and we can’t look at the situation square on without confusion and suffering. So we don’t look, and a part of us numbs down, which means one part less for loving and caring. Such a situation can endure for decades – even a lifetime – until we dare to look it directly in the face.

No wonder fairy stories and legends abound with themes of being turned into stone or killed by looking – Medusa, the basilisk … We are terrified to look at our thinking.

So, what’s wrong with the thinking that gets us stuck?

1. Dead seriousness – I/we take ourselves too seriously.

Lighten up – it definitely won’t hurt, and it’ll probably greatly improve your every endeavour. “The only difference between a wise man and a fool is that the wise man knows he’s playing,” said Fritz Perls.

2. Insistence on perfection or rightness

The king of pianists, Vladimir Horowitz, said that perfection itself is imperfection. If perfection is just getting the right notes or words in the right order, of course it’s imperfection; it’s only a fraction of the story when you’re communicating – and living. Concentrate on the rest – energy, feeling, connection, desire, empathy, understanding… anything but correctness in fact!

3. Clinging on – to control, practice, preparation, consistency, the idea that it’s got to be a particular way for whatever reason

Let go – accept whatever transpires; get your ego out of the way. Or as Brene Brown, who often puts things well, says: “What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think – or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” Better a vulnerable living-breathing-human-being than an error-free-robot every time.

Enjoy the dance!

Go well,

Judy

 

OTHER THOUGHTS

Voice of Influence Workshop

Over the years this 2-day workshop has made a big difference to people.  I found the course fabulous, probably the best course I’ve been on. Got so much from it. wrote Susan Nimmo RBS.  Numerous other testimonials here. I continue to get enquiries about the course and would like very much to run it again, but need someone to get people together and organise it. If that’s you, let me know! If you want to express your interest in attending the course, likewise let me know.

My Books

If you’ve found today’s blog interesting, you may like to follow up the topic in my book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms in book or e-form.

All my books are about communication, so here are the rest!

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.

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

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

(Un)Stuck

By the way, there’s a free download for educators of a neat 9-page story book called (Un) Stuck here – probably not intended for the general reader but relevant to many of us just the same.

Coaching

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

The Miracle of Voice

Is your voice too quiet, boring, untuneful or effortful? 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? If you don’t like your voice, you can change it; you’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Presencing Institute

Have you heard of the Presencing Institute, based at MIT? Some great resources, courses, videos, ideas – have a look.

Download some of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

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

So, beyond protest, what?

The Washington Post contacted more than 400 charities with some ties to the current President of the USA in an effort to find proof of the millions he has said he donated to them. They were mostly unsuccessful. Here's one of David Farenthold's many checklists.
The Washington Post contacted 400+ charities with ties to the President to find proof of the millions he says he donated. They mostly failed. Here’s one of many checklists.

What can an ordinary person do about the extraordinary frightening state of the world? I’ve been struggling.

I started to write a newsletter a week ago, started another on Tuesday, found a new theme on Friday – but whatever I started turned into a rant connected to recent events in the USA. And what’s the point of ranting against a ranter who feeds on outrage and opposition? Moreover, everything I touched seemed to get more complex and difficult as I went.

What IS an issue?

I realised that whatever issue I chose, I didn’t know what I was talking about – I mean literally. What am I talking about – actually – when I talk about immigration, safety, terrorism, freedom, defence, abuse, Islamists, justice, populism, nationalism or even Brexit (I know, I know, it means ‘Brexit’ – that pretty much sums up the problem!).

What am I talking about for instance when I talk about immigration? It certainly sounds like an issue, but the word immigration covers too much – it might be summed up for one elderly person as a person with a disconcertingly foreign look; as someone escaping from terrible suffering abroad for another; as someone disgracefully driving wages down for an unemployed eastern-counties man; as someone heroically holding the care service together singlehanded for the family of an old person in need, or as an unrecognisable term according to an English person living in Spain (What immigrant, I’m an expat!)

That’s the problem with abstract terms: until they are further defined no one can know what exact meaning is intended. We put our own meaning to the word and fight our corner, but often people in the other corner are interpreting the word with a meaning directly the opposite of ours. This makes it impossible to understand each other. Or we can agree heartily, while meaning something very different. This happens a lot, and is what makes these abstract words powerful tools for cynical manipulators.  As we are seeing … and have been seeing for quite a long time.

Issues and Troubles

Almost 70 years ago, the sociologist C Wright Mills wrote about the important difference between issues and troubles. He said a trouble is a tangible problem that concerns individuals in their immediate experience – it has a story. An issue is public – some value cherished by the public feels threatened. An issue is always expressed with an abstract word. Sometimes an issue gains all the attention of people and press, propelled by particular interests, but doesn’t connect with the actual troubles besetting people in their lives. (Politics is traditionally very good at this.) Sometimes, it’s the opposite: common troubles fail to get surfaced and formulated as public issues, and so fail to be addressed at a level where change can happen. (With me so far? – stick with it!)

So, for example, immigration is a huge issue, but what are the troubles that people (often with considerable help from politicians) attribute to it? – lack of work, a money-starved health system, the yearning for simpler days before mass travel? There’s very little mention currently of the various troubles that bring people to support the issue because that doesn’t concern its political backers; and only by understanding the troubles can appropriate practical measures be taken to solve the problem. Child abuse in the Catholic Church was a grievous issue, but only when the press brought to the fore the individual troubles – the harrowing stories related by victims – only then did something get done about it.

Why all this now? I think we’ve been led astray for many years by too easy acceptance of these abstract ‘issue’ words; we’re too easily horrified and outraged as well; too easily grabbing meaning from a headline, a tweet, an image or our favourite news outlet (unheeding of who is the actual power behind it); when our job probably should be to look more at the actual troubles that lie behind the issues and look very carefully indeed at their connection with named issues.

Time to turn detective

That’s what David Farenthold is doing. This highly impressive and surprisingly humble American journalist has been quietly and doggedly investigating the truth of the Trump Foundation for the Washington Post – tackling the issue of the President’s truth and generosity. He’s been painstakingly uncovering facts piece by piece, involving the public through Twitter, and going to source – i.e. the charities supposed to have been helped – rather than beating his head against the wall of Washington politics. (Photo of one of the lists he tweeted above) He’s discovered many lies and misappropriations, and the sheer amount of detail from named people in hundreds of different charities makes his stories convincing. I like what he’s doing. He makes me want to be better at seeking out genuine information; to be much more careful and discerning, more ready to explore different sources, more ready to question my assumptions – like a chess player maybe, who needs to use all his careful intelligence and attention to lock that king in a corner and call out Checkmate!

Only when thousands and thousands of us can support our facts and assertions with convincing detail will we feel powerful rather than outraged. Then together we might present some sort of a force for good.

Well, that’s today’s thought anyway. What do you think?

What Else?

Feel like something uplifting?

I can recommend any of the following:

Alternatives

Talks and workshops at St. James’s Picadilly in London on holistic thinking and spirituality. An eclectic mix of speakers. They certainly contain names of authors who have maintained their place on my book shelves through the years. Coming up: Deepak Chopra, Julia Cameron, Marianne WIlliamson, David Hamilton …

Brahma Kumaris Courses

Learn meditation, Positive Thinking, Stress-free Living and more. Courses in London and other centres in the UK and all round the world. No charge and zero pressure, though you’ll probably enjoy the course and want to donate. They offer great sessions and conferences for coaches – some coming up later in the year.

Osho

I wanted to recommend Everyday Osho: 365 Daily Meditations for the Here and Now for a wonderful daily dose of good sense and inspiration, but it seems hard to find at a reasonable price. So I recommend any Osho – he’s written lots of books, just pick a title. Even my county libraries have copies.

Coaching

If you ever decide to be a coach – life coach, executive coach – you’re never going to wake up one day and think, Yes, I have arrived. Even for the most experienced there’s always something to learn . A current theme for me at the moment is how presence and detachment coexist. Only detached and you don’t really connect; bring your whole self into presence and there’s always the danger of introducing personal preoccupations and tugs on your energy. So we remain centred and earth based and at the same time dancing on the sharp edge of the mountain peak. We hope never to slide below a certain level, and every now and then, the results astound us all in their rightness.

Get a coach. Get a coach, it’s worth it. For sure you can be more, and you’ll gain so much in the process of becoming what you can be. People around you will gain big-time too. If you want to contact me to talk through what’s possible, email in the first instance.

I also offer coaching in all aspects of public speaking, presenting and voice. You can book up a single session if you want to dip your toe in the water.

Courses

I’m running in-house courses on Public Speaking, Leadership and Walking Your Talk, Unconscious Bias and more this spring. Do contact me if you’d like a personalised workshop on any of those or similar themes from a trainer who’ll understand the different needs of your delegates – it genuinely makes all the difference. 

As usual, my current books

The Art of Conversation
I gave an interview to Kinfolk magazine this week on silence in conversation – I found it a fascinating theme. The issue’s not out till summer apparently. The interviewer described the magazine as a high-end lifestyle and culture publication with a print readership of 170,000 people in over 100 countries. It certainly looks glossy!

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

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

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

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

 

Spotted my first snowdrops in the wild this morning, peeping out of frosty grass. Good to see.

Go well,

Judy

What Does Success Look Like This Year?

Success and Keeping OnI bought Alan Bennett’s latest book last month. I’m thinking of using the title, Keeping On Keeping On, as my New Year’s Resolution, as in, “This year, I think I’ll ‘keep on keeping on’.”

It’s the time of the New Year Honours, and whatever the spread of gongs, we notice the famous in the lists. They were successful, and that’s the message: if you work really hard, you can be successful too and win your gong. Make your resolutions: be bold and ambitious; demonstrate toughness and resilience; meet the right people; go get that prize.

Most of us want to be special, and this ambition suggests that most of us deep down fear that currently we’re a bit ordinary. Funny that – I now prefer to put that the other way around – realising that we’re all amazing and special, and our better task might be to get rid of our ego and find the ordinary in ourselves.

Upside down that might seem, but it’s been an upside down world this last year. Events have frequently demonstrated the worst in our leaders, and the aftermath fills us with fear for the coming year. If the kind of leadership demonstrated last year is special – if egotistical power-loving behaviour is “special”, who wants it?

What about a different goal for an important year – the ambition to be kind, for example? Now that would really be something.

I see much that is kind in Alan Bennett. Not just that he moved “the lady in the van” parked in the road outside his house into his garden and didn’t even consider it an act of charity; not just that he donated his archive to the Bodleian Library as a gesture of thanks to the British welfare state that had given him educational opportunities that his parents would otherwise never have afforded. Not his northern ‘of the people’ accent. More that in his autobiographical books and indeed all his writing his humanity and kindness shine out on every page.

Maybe for many, your New Year resolutions this year are to achieve particular goals and targets. But for others, this may not be your year for reaching goals, but for keeping on keeping on. Maybe you have parents becoming frailer, children needing you more, friends who are unwell or distressed, maybe your own mind and body demand your attention? These don’t have to be impediments to your goals – maybe they contain the pearl of great price for you this year.

Or maybe, as you make your resolutions, you reflect that you have made these same resolutions before, even many times – you’ve travelled and travelled, yet you’re back in the same old place again.

There’s a thought-provoking poem by Denise Levertov, called For Those Whom the Gods Love Less. (Hear her reading it here.) The title comes from a Greek saying that those whom the gods love die young. So those who live longer … Anyway, the poem begins:

When you discover
your new work travels the ground you had traversed
decades ago, you wonder, panicked,
‘Have I outlived my vocation? Said already
all that was mine to say?’

Don’t panic, she reassures. You might feel that it’s the same every year, but even in repetition the light falls differently and “radiant epiphanies recur”. She urges, “You can, you must proceed.”

TS Eliot, whose complete poems Jeremy Irons (there’s a voice!) has been reading all this week on Radio 4, declares, “the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”

So, maybe for you it’s your year to step aside from the Hero’s Journey for a moment; to draw back a little from the yoga stretch or your target in the gym, to go easy on your BHAG (big hairy ambitious goal), and find an “ordinary” resolution – maybe merely the resolution to be kind? (Or to be loving or peaceful or generous or grateful?) Now wouldn’t that be extraordinary? Special even.

Who of our politicians, business leaders, the great and the good, or celebrities famous for being famous is kind? Who would we choose for a New Year’s Honour if the criterion were to have been kind? Why isn’t there a Nobel Prize for kindness? The wonderful travel writer and human being Jan Morris in conversation with John Walsh from The Independent said,

Kindness is the ultimate path, the one thing that can stand up against all the shit, the ghastliness. It’s the ultimate human quality. I’ve often thought of starting a political party of Kindness, which would estimate the proportion of kindness there is in any policy. It would be the criterion for a whole system of government.

I really like that! So here’s the challenge: let’s look at the powerful this year and tweet any demonstrations of their kindness we notice. In fact, why just the powerful? Let’s all build a year of kindness. What kindnesses did you meet this Christmas and New Year? Today? It’s a way of perceiving that we all need urgently in these times, and I don’t think we’ve appreciated its full power yet.

PS – Kindness offers a bonus too. In a talk I attended last autumn, David Hamilton (author and former developer of drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer for the pharmaceutical industry) explained  that research at Oregon State University has proved that kindness – whether we act kindly or unbelievably merely witness a kind act – activates our parasympathetic nervous system and causes our body to produce oxytocin that calms the heart, slows ageing and makes us happier. Oh, and it’s contagious. So kindness is good for us too!

Happy New Year!

Judy

 

ALSO …

Learning Public Speaking from TED

TED Talks are probably by now too famous to need explaining, and if you Google TED you’ll now find scores of websites offering you help in delivering the perfect TED Talk. I find this short talk, TED’s Secret to Great Public Speaking by Chris Anderson, the current curator of TED Talks, one of the most useful.

Coaching

A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. It’s not just about help with a to-do list, though it could be that too. It’s about getting to know yourself better – your skills, values and qualities – and discovering how to be the person you want to be. Then your way becomes clearer and smoother and you achieve more with less effort..  Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Performance Anxiety

Suffer from performance nerves? Read my book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms. It’s full of excellent strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence, and dealing with scary gremlins. We’re all scared at times and need a helping hand. Here’s the proper link to my E-course, 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety. A couple of coaching sessions, face-to-face or Skype, can also make all the difference.

Speaking with Authority

Download my e-course, How to Speak with More Authority. Or read my book, Voice of Influence.  Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level. My ‘Dummies’ book, Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies is also full of useful tips and strategies.

Engaging in conversation with ease

Read The Art of Conversationand find out how to make connection with people on a deeper, more satisfying level. Start with my free E-course, 10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation, for some first ideas.

Poem

I’ve just added another favourite poem to my website collection. Slow Dance by David Weatherhead is a poem for busy people. Maybe that’s you?

In praise of Boredom

Young girl and jamjar

Young girl and jamjar

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

Freedom

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

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

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

Boredom

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

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

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

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

Butterfly brain

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

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

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

Freedom TO be bored

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially when we’re grown-up.

Which makes me think of Pooh:

“What I like doing best is Nothing.”

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

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

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

“Oh!” said Pooh.”

from Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne

 WHAT ELSE?

Coaching

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

Performance Anxiety

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

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

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

Speaking with Authority

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

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

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

Engaging in conversation with ease

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

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

Communication, Coaaching and NLP

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

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

Go well,

Judy

 

 

 

Is change possible? D’you already know how it’ll turn out?

What’s possible?

What's possible in life?I often used to think of life’s progress as a parabola, with a curving trajectory rising and rising and then falling again. The rise would include learning, growing, achievement and success, and the second falling part would be – well, I didn’t quite know what, gradual decline and death I supposed. Only, now I’m definitely on that second half, I’m not so keen on the image and can’t help thinking that a different representation with more sense of the possible would be preferable.

The trouble is, the image of rise and fall is a self-fulfilling prophecy. From half-way, we look back on a set of memories – interpreted for many of us through negative internal dialogue – and then expect a future that repeats the patterns of the past with an added sense of decline. Not good!

That’s why I like the story of John McAvoy

John was born to be a criminal. His dad died when he was young; his uncle was a member of the notorious Brink’s-Mat robbery gang, his step dad was serving a life sentence for armed robbery, and the whole family was involved in serious organised crime. At 16 he owned a sawn-off shotgun and was aiming it at security vans across London. By the time he was in his early 20s he’d earned a life sentence for conspiracy to commit armed robbery and landed in Belmarsh high security prison where he shared a wing with such role models as Islamic terrorist Abu Hamza and some of the 21/7 bombers.

Reading so far, you wouldn’t guess at a happy outcome. Only you’d be wrong. Two things happened.

The first was a common one – most of us experience a version of it at some point in our lives – the rough awakening. He’d known plenty of violence in his life, but one day in prison, he saw on the TV news that his best friend had died, thrown out of a car on a roundabout in a police chase in Holland. Shut in his cell, John suddenly thought, “What the f*** have I done with my life? Nothing.”

The second was a rarer gift: another human being saw something possible in him he couldn’t see himself. What happened was this: like many another prison inmate he used to exercise hard in the gym just to get out of his cell. One day he was working away on the rowing machine and a prison officer, Darren Davies, was watching him. The next day the officer came into the gym with a series of rowing records printed out and casually suggested he look at them. John realised he could probably beat them, and for the first time for years felt a sense of excitement at what might be possible. The prison officer took steps to find out if official records could be officially broken in prison and then – with difficulty – obtained permission from the governor for John to make attempts on the records. John set to with all the focus and determination he had earlier used for crime, and broke the British record for rowing the marathon plus several other British records. He then smashed the world record for the distance rowed in 24 hours. Darren gave up his day off to sit with John for a day and a night while he cracked the record.

The happy outcome?

The records John broke while in prison coincided with raising money for charity and ultimately his sentence was reduced. He was put in touch with Putney rowing club and later, looking at what was possible for people his age in athletics, he changed discipline and opted for the Iron Man triathlon, consisting of a  gruelling 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride followed by the 42.2 km marathon. Previously, he couldn’t swim and hadn’t ridden a bike since he was 12, but that didn’t hold him back. He now has a personal coach and sponsors, and this year the probation service allowed him to travel to Frankfurt for his first European Iron Man Championship. He performed creditably, inching towards the European record. He’s thoroughly accepted in athletic circles and seen as a hero.

But of course, there’s another hero in his story: the prison officer, Darren Davis, the man who recognised raw talent in a hardened criminal, believed in the possibility of change, and then gave of his interest and time. He’s the man who sowed the seed of success, without whom none of this would have happened.

How to be a catalyst for change

One of the great things I learned from NLP and coaching studies was that we can all be agents of change. I found mentors who believed in me when I hardly believed in myself. Then in turn, students of mine have awakened others to possibility. One completely turned around a member of staff who was just about to be dismissed, through awakening a sense of the possible in him – the organisation had never seen anything like it. Another wrote to me after a gap of several years to say that the change process started back when she felt lost had led to an entirely new career as producer for the BBC.

Such stories are wonderful to hear, but mostly none of us get to know the results of seeds we sow – what exciting outcomes result from perhaps even a short moment of intense interest and caring for another human being. It happens in those moments when we see, not just the person before us but also the possibility within someone who doesn’t yet believe in that possibility for him or herself.

We all tend to look at other human beings and see what we already know. This other seeing views with fresh eyes, eyes that know nothing, and glimpses possibility. I say eyes; I might say heart.

Anyone who pays attention can do this. There’s an autumn story of an acorn who pays more attention than the other acorns. It notices that acorns that fall to the ground crack open and start to grow into oak trees. Most of the other acorns are appalled and disgusted with the idea that they might fall and crack open, and ridicule the acorn’s assertion. But the acorn looks up at the towering oak above them, and says to the other acorns in amazement and wonder, “Look! – We are that.”

Luckily, as John McAvoy would say with gratitude, it only takes one.

Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth. William Blake

ALSO TO SHARE 

Coaching

When I talk above about “the man who recognised raw talent, believed that change was possible, and then gave of his interest and time”, I am of course talking also about coaching. A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

The Miracle of Voice

It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource we have in our voice? I thought you might enjoy an article I wrote about this miracle. Click the link above.

Download some of my E-courses too (I never share your email with anyone):

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

My Books

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

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

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

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

Training Courses

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

TEDx Dorking

TEDx Dorking was a triumph last week. One of the speakers reminded us about the Ken Robinson talk on creativity in education – it really is good, have a watch … or watch it again. He tells of a six year old creating a picture in drawing class. What are you drawing?” the teacher asks. And the girl says, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher says, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl says, “They will, in a minute.”

Oh what mighty oak trees might grow, how high would the parabola of life sweep, if children’s confidence and creativity were recognised and nurtured!

Go well,

Judy

Worry? What me?

Five LIve

As I sat at my laptop a couple of days ago I thought I might write about that mild angst you sometimes wake up with that can colour your whole day – you know the kind of thing …

I was just getting going when the phone rang. It was a young guy from BBC Five Live. Had I seen the latest Telegraph article on whether conversation is dead and whether it matters? Would I agree to be interviewed via Skype on their programme later that day at 5.25 PM? Yes, I would.

He forwarded the article and twenty minutes later called me back to hear my first ideas on the subject. No problem at all … yet I felt a mild angst, and for the rest of the day, I thought and worried about the interview at fairly frequent intervals.

By 5 PM I was already linked on Skype, and tuned-in to Five Live, a channel I’ve never knowingly listened to before – the pace was fast, the tone unrelentingly young and energetic…

At 5.20 I was put on stand-by, and could hear the programme through their speakers. At 5.23, a voice broke through,

“Judy? Okay if we announce you as “Judy Apps, Communications Expert and author of The Art of Conversation?
Yes, that’s f…” He was gone.

“COMMUNICATIONS EXPERT?” (said my internal voice in capital letters). Expert? (bold, underlined, question mark). Expert? No pressure then …

5.24. One minute to go. The journalist is currently interviewing a member of parliament from the Labour Conference, and the debate is getting quite lively: “So you are a Socialist?” “Yes, we’re all Socialists here,” … A new voice breaks in and I suddenly realise it’s for me – okay, go, go, this now  is it!

“Sorry, Judy,” says the disembodied voice, “This Conference interview is running over. We’ll try to fit you in some time during the next hour. We’ll call you when we’re ready.”

What? Any old time during the next hour?

Okay, keep the energy going … I’m just making a cup of tea when the phone rings. It’s my original young man of the morning with the briefest of messages.

“Hi-Judy-sorry-we’ve-pulled-your-item-perhaps-call-you-another-time-Bye.”

Oh. Was that it? That was indeed it.

I went and played the piano – Beethoven, with loads of furious energy and quite a lot of wrong notes – until I felt better; (vigorous shaking being a well-known large animal strategy for dissipating stress – as Peter Levine tells us in Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

Well, what a funny day! I’d spent much of it focused on the future. And the future had laughed at me: “Didn’t expect that outcome, did you?!”

Isn’t it the strangest thing – to use nervous energy on what hasn’t happened yet, and certainly won’t turn out precisely the way you’re imagining it anyway? It’s what I work on with people all the time, for goodness sake. We’ve all experienced it.

When you’re in the middle of something that gets the adrenalin going, the only thing is to be in the present, accepting the situation as it is, breathing and living it – holding on to the intention to stay in the here and now. It makes all the difference when you can. It’s the only way to listen well; the only way to pick up what’s really happening; the only way to use your full intelligence and respond mindfully.

At the Brahma Kumaris yoga centres, quiet music plays for one minute on the hour every hour – a reminder to return to yourself, to check in and see if mind, heart and spirit are still occupied in the way you want them to be. It’s a gentle effective system for becoming present again – I really like it. Try it one day if you like by setting up a gentle hourly alarm on your mobile.

I turn to Rumi for inspiration, and as usual he has something helpful to say:

This now is it. Your deepest need and desire
is satisfied by this moment’s energy
here in your hand.

Thanks, Rumi, that’s what I wanted to write about!

 

Also to share …

Coaching with Compassion – Sun. 9 Oct – London

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

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

It’s free, but you need to register here. I’ll be there – hope to meet you.

My Books

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

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

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

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

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

Do you struggle to know what you say when you meet someone new? Or do you feel that you babble on and sound shallow or childish? Or do you sometimes find yourself stumbling, where others seem to converse so comfortably? Then try this e-course – free to download here.

Try some of my other E-courses too (I never share your email with anyone):
10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP

Coaching

Coaching is for anyone and everyone. I hear from leaders in organisations who want to air ideas and solve problems, executives who wish to polish their skills, unemployed people who want to get back into the market, people who feel in a rut. Lots of reasons, but all wanting the same thing – to move forward and be the best of themselves. Maybe it’s time for you to take that step? A few sessions of coaching are affordable and potentially life changing. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Training Courses

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

“Today, like every other day”

A few lines by the poet Rumi, from the collection on my website:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Thanks to those of you that get in touch – it’s good to hear from you.

Go well,

Judy

judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

 

 

 

Lesons from Fools

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

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

Who says everything needs to make sense?

 

The BFG

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

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

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

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

But to be serious, seriously …

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

Some examples of the divide:

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

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

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

What about non-serious?

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

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

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

You get the idea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically. Nelson Mandela

And the rest …

E-courses

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

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

How to Speak with More Authority

Understanding NLP

Coaching

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

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

Coaching with Compassion – Sun. 9 Oct – London

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

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

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

My Books

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

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

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

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

Training Courses

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

Go well,

Judy

 

judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

 

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required




 

Catching a Summer Moment …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

E-courses

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

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

How to Speak with More Authority

Understanding NLP

Books

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

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

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

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

Training Courses

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

A Poem on Taking a Moment

Here is Rumi on letting go of insistence.

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

Ask the way to the spring.

Your living pieces
will form a harmony.

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

 

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

Happy summer, friends,
Go well,

Judy

 

Don’t like the atmosphere – not feeling so good

catWhen at last my parents were able to afford a mortgage, they looked at several houses. Finally, they found the house in which they eventually settled happily and spent the rest of their lives. The first moment my mother stepped over the threshold to view the property she exclaimed, “This house has a lovely atmosphere.” Perhaps you’ve had experiences of sensing atmospheres yourself? Or maybe you are already impatiently dismissing the idea of ‘atmosphere’ as utter nonsense?

It’s difficult to notice an atmosphere you’re very used to. It’s like smell – they say cat owners seldom realise that their rooms smell of cats and smokers don’t realise that to non-smokers their houses reek of cigarettes. Fishes don’t know they’re in water.

But go somewhere new, and suddenly you’re aware of differences in the water we swim in. I went to Rome and at first found people in the streets abrupt and impatient; but coming home a few years later, I found most polite English social smiles insincere. Travel can indeed open the mind – unless you’re floating in a tourist bubble. I’ve been stopped in my tracks sometimes by differences in culture – the helpfulness of people in Istanbul, the hospitality of the Nepalese, the positivity of Australians … “Oh my goodness,” it hit me once, “we English complain quite a lot, I didn’t realise….”

You go to work in one office, and people are friendly to you, but spend their time moaning about decisions and you sense the “us and them” culture. You work somewhere else, and there’s a bullying culture, or a spitefully competitive one. And then, working there for years, you don’t notice it any more – it’s become the water you swim in.

What about this last week? If you’ve been listening constantly to the news or checking in to social media, with so much content stoking flames of anger, have you felt the atmosphere? If you have, you might already find it’s getting you down, and that every further negative bulletin increases your anger and angst.

Atmosphere is like the food we eat and the air we breathe, and almost as important. If there’s a lot of negativity in your home or at work, it’s like carbon monoxide and everyone becomes ill, if not physically then mentally, and often both.

What’s the remedy? For many, the answer is to desensitise yourself, ignore it, live with it and finally fail to notice it. “What bullying?” says the ambitious executive – “that’s just friendly banter.” “What do you mean – this is a negative culture?” protests the public official. “The staff here aren’t under pressure.” And the poison in the system endures to hurt the business and the people in it.

Although cultures aren’t completely straightforward to change, there is something better we can do than grin and bear it:

  1. First, do not desensitise yourself: tune in and notice a damaging atmosphere. Become aware of what people are actually communicating – not just the words, but how they are saying what they are saying.
    .
  2. At the same time, detach yourself from content. Just, merely, simply, breathe quietly; stop and be in this moment … n o w…. Become aware of the big picture and soak up the whole – holistic awareness rather than content awareness.
    .
  3. From a quieter place, recognise your power to affect the atmosphere. Your presence is part of and affects the culture anyway, so use it to exert a positive influence. As we start to be more aware of atmosphere, we realise that a certain person brings calm into the room, while another creates tension. In certain meetings everyone feels dragged down by problems; in others there’s a sense of openness and possibility. Who’s creating that difference – and how? It’s not so much what the person does; it’s more how they are – the energy they bring into the room. Watch and listen to how others do it – negatively and positively – and learn.

If you walk into a room calmly believing in a positive outcome, just by your very presence you change everything. Your body language, tone of voice, the words you choose, your feelings: all are affected automatically by your mind-set and belief. And this positive change in you affects and changes the mood of others around you.

It’s about opening, rather than a shutting down – it’s a good way to be especially at present, when it’s tempting to screw our eyes shut and just wish that it would all go away – wish that we were still inside the egg, that the shell hadn’t irrevocably cracked.

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. C. S. Lewis

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” “Its people” – ah yes, that’s us, isn’t it?

 

What else?

Some Interesting Links

Landscapes of the Heart

The psychotherapist Juliet Grayson – an impressive woman if ever there was one! – has published “Landscapes of the Heart”, a beautifully readable book on her work.

Center for Transformation Presence

On the subject of being rather than doing,  Alan Seale of the Center for Transformational Presence has some interesting things to say in his blogs.

Coaching with Clean Language

For an good example of coaching using David Gordon’s Clean Language go to James and Penny Lawley’s Wisdom of Life video here.

Coaching

My blog today speaks about how you are rather than what you do. For instance, you may wish that you could act more effectively in certain situations, speaking in meetings for instance. If you work with a coach on finding a sense of ease within yourself – i.e. on changing your way of being, not only will your performance in meetings improve, but every other situation in your life in which lack of confidence holds you back will be transformed. Good value!

If you want to find out more about executive or life coaching with me, email me or call me on 01306 886114 – just for a chat in the first instance. Even a single session can have a significant impact. lifecoach-directory.org.uk/member_2261.html

My books so far – buy them here

The Art of Conversation

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

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies

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

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms

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

Voice of Influence

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

Training Courses

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

Finally, a poemby E.E. Cummins on being not doing

Poetry is being, not doing.
If you wish to follow,
    even at a distance,    
    the poet’s calling,
You’ve got to come out of the
measurable doing universe into
the immeasurable house of being.
 
Nobody else can be alive for you –
Nor can you be alive for anyone else. 
 
If you can take it – take it and be.
 
If you can’t – cheer up and go about
other people’s business and do or undo
till you drop.
 .
Happy summer days!
Go well,
Judy