Frog in the Pot – How to Deal with Creeping Change

Green Frog“As long as nothing changes and I hang on, I’m fine.”

I have that story about the frog in a pot on my brain – already disproved by the way. It says that if you put a frog into boiling water, it leaps out right away, whereas, if you put a frog in cool water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog doesn’t become aware of the threat until it is too late. Okay, not true apparently. But it’s too good a fable to give up, because we recognise the metaphor.

I recognise it, anyway. I’m feeling a bit like the fabled frog currently. During lockdown, like you maybe, I read a lot of books, including one on World War II. It made me wonder what it would have been like to vote for Adolph Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany in 1932, honestly believing it would rescue my nation from ever-worsening economic depression and the humiliation of the settlement after World War 1; only to find the political temperature rising steadily to the boil with the rise of the SS and the first concentration camp, arrest and harsh treatment of political opponents and undesirables, then gypsies and Jews; secret police, paid informers, absolute control of the military, justice system and media; children educated in the dogma, and finally the phase of studied ignorance, fear of arrest making people less likely to speak out against atrocities; everyone maintaining a fantasy of normality in a nightmare world. … I certainly wouldn’t have been voting for genocide in 1932; but the ground shifted, the water heated up, and it got too late to jump out.

It’s easy to miss gradual change. I’ve just watched the recent Skoda Attention Test advert and my attention to detail was amazingly feeble. Is you haven’t yet, try it for yourself – it’s quite entertaining. Awareness of piece-by-piece change is important in all parts of our lives, and we need to learn to join the dots if we’re to avoid unhappy surprises. I’m not suggesting we are living a repeat of the 1930s; life doesn’t repeat, quite. But I do wonder about creeping change and what we can do about it.

Lockdown in its sudden contrast shone a light on change. I live in leafy Surrey, and I can’t say I’d really noticed that I was being quietly suffocated and damaged by dirty air, even with more cars and aircraft always overhead. Then lockdown last year produced changes writ large. How clean the air! How clear the atmosphere! How loud the sound of birdsong too without the noise of traffic!

Another gradual change interrupted by the pandemic was work patterns. We had gradually become habituated to working lives that never switched off, with mobile phone domination, lengthy and increasingly busy commutes, zero-privacy open-plan offices, work-and-family juggling – little of it known to our grandparents. The pandemic showed that the lifestyle wasn’t inevitable.  Many could work efficiently from home. In pyjamas if they wanted. The rhythms of pub, gym, shopping, eating out, entertainment, sport, travel – all stopped, and we survived. Some of us even preferred it.

The pandemic’s statistics were equally stark. Okay, I knew about austerity, food banks and children going hungry. But then the pandemic revealed extraordinary regional differences in health and wellbeing. The Office for National statistics reported a difference in longevity between Westminster and Glasgow City of 11.3 years. What differences in nutrition, physical and mental health and life chances are hidden in such an extreme figure? It was hard to fathom. A UN report on extreme poverty in the UK corroborated “a harsh and uncaring ethos”. Amnesty International’s 2020-21 global report criticised the UK’s ‘headlong rush into abandoning human rights’. Who knew? Well, we sort of did, but as changes happened bit by bit, we didn’t look hard enough.

Meanwhile, the pandemic took our attention away from other apparently isolated changes that added up. We discovered that our centuries-old institutions were also not set in stone. Who knew that American and British democracies were vulnerable? Who realised how many of the pillars supporting a democracy were there by honour and convention and could be knocked down if people were sufficiently audacious.

And the most serious incremental change of all? Changes to our planet caused by humans: logging, mining, invasive agriculture, over-fishing, destruction of habitats, shrinking bio-diversity, pollution, climate change and – well there’s a surprise! – invasive species and disease.Frog in pot

Okay, so that’s why I feel we’re frogs in the pot. It’s hotting up. It’s complicated. Our froggy heads are already getting woozy. What on earth can we do? Wiser heads than mine are seeking solutions.

I have just one lateral idea, very close to home:

To explore a little, away from our tribe

By tribe I mean our profession, club, team, educational and financial set, political party, media affiliations, religion, race and gender. It’s great to have a community. But when we chat only within our ‘tribe’, we get to believe that our view of the world is the only valid one; and blind loyalty is not a good idea when the ground is shifting under your feet. Maybe you were a Republican Senator yesterday and still say you are today, but are you sure that ‘Republican’ hasn’t completely shifted its meaning while you’ve been looking the other way? Are we still confident to rubber stamp every proposal of our party, without checking with our inner intelligence first? Maybe we have always trusted the same respectable newspaper but, while it still looks familiar, are we sure that over time a new owner hasn’t quietly changed it in all but name? The name isn’t the thing. The organisation Right to Life upholds the death penalty; our own European Research Group doesn’t want anything whatsoever to do with Europe.

Think and feel for ourselves

Values aren’t like a football teams where you stick with your side whatever happens. At work, it’s not enough to ‘go along with’ policies if they destroy trust, hurt people or devastate the planet, even if evidence is the other side of the world, or the harm far in the future. This may create conflicted loyalties, but once your eyes are opened don’t shut them again; do whatever feels possible to remain true to yourself.

In close relationships, ‘going along with’ things that are wrong, through fear, low self-esteem or misplaced loyalty is like the frog ignoring the temperature of the water, and the day will come when the water boils. Much better to seek ways to talk now.

Find out about things that matter to you. Explore various sources of information. And then trust your intuition. If something feels cruel, it probably is cruel. Your inner voice speaks the truth.

Well, this is an article I have written with myself in mind as the needy recipient! If it speaks to you too, I’m happy.

Go well,

Judy

PLUS

A POEM

If the uncertainties of our times are getting to you, maybe you’ll like this poem by Wendell Berry:

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.

TED

Self trust is a theme in my TEDx Talk which you can find on TED.com.

BOOKS

I’m reading Bonnie Badenoch’s The Heart of Trauma currently. It’s good!

My The Art of Communication explores modestly one or two of the same themes – for example, successful communication is more about how you are than what you say or do.

Here are links to my other books. I’ll be very happy if you find one or all of them useful, and tell me what you think.

The Art of Conversation – how to have truly two-way satisfying exchanges.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies – all about creating the voice you want

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – how to beat performance anxiety in every sphere

Voice of Influence – how to speak so that people want to listen to you

I’ve given you links to bookshop.org that support local bookshops, but you can buy the books everywhere, including e-versions and audio.

COACHING

Springtime – new beginnings. Maybe time to have thinking space with a coach? Get in touch if you want to talk it through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You’ve Passed Through All the Lies

Banksy Reading Prison

 

If you’re lucky enough to live long enough, you get to an age when you realise you are going to die. When you’re younger, you think you know that, of course you do, but you don’t, not really. With this realisation, living long enough, you get to understand that the great prize is being alive. Just that, how you manifest being alive. It never was about being the best singer in the world, of conquering the highest mountain, having the most money or power, or saving ten thousand souls. It wasn’t even about leaving things behind for people to enjoy, though that’s a nice thing to do. With reluctance you realise it wasn’t even about learning, though that is a good way to live.

Some people are alive and share their aliveness to energise and inspire; some are Death Eaters and drain and destroy. Both types are to be found anywhere and everywhere.

Casually watching Grayson Perry’s Art Club the other evening, I chanced upon aliveness. Grayson has it in spades, life without artifice; which is the weirdest thing to say of an artist who is perhaps best known for dressing up as a little girl. But aliveness is happy with paradox: creating a character and hiding behind a disguise aren’t the same thing, he’s very open about that. If you’re hiding behind a disguise, you’re not fully living because you’re not free. And then you can’t plough your own furrow, which means fully to live. He’s a pretty good example of someone who has found the courage to be himself, I think.

One section of his programme showed a film of a graffiti artist creating a stencil on a wall, and then we see that the stencil is a Banksy artwork, which appeared on the wall of Reading Prison – where Oscar Wylde was imprisoned – very recently. It depicts a prisoner escaping down a rope made of twisted paper, weighted by an old-fashioned typewriter. It suggests – amongst other things maybe – that however locked-up or locked-down you are, there’s always space and freedom to create in your own imagination. Banksy – there’s another creative, full of the life force, ploughing his own furrow…

Talking of furrows, the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins was another who brought gold to his own furrow:

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
from The Windhover

Finding shine and fire in the ‘plod’ of every day…

But back to Grayson: next he selects a bold and brightly coloured picture of nature created by a viewer. He phones the artist and it turns out to be a lively young disabled woman (cerebral palsy? – it’s not the point), who creates computer generated paintings using her eyes only. What shines through is genuine talent together with boundless delight and enthusiasm; she is so clearly who she is, full of life, also ploughing her own unique furrow. One more for life. Grayson is humbled, and I am too.

Finally, I think of Clive James, who died at the end of 2019. I’ve been half in love with Clive James since I read his Unreliable Memoirs half a lifetime ago. A polymath and huge wit, he lived an exciting varied life in the public gaze. His daughter Claerwyn spent time with him through his cancer and wrote that it was an immense privilege to be with him in his last months and weeks. She said that after all the fame, success and pride in his own brilliance, in his final illness he returned to what he really was: “He was sort of incandescent, really. It felt like he had passed through something. At the end, you’ve passed through all the lies you tell yourself about what life is about, and what you might accomplish. You know what’s coming. He just appreciated everything in this astonishing way … His world had shrunk to this room and yet, every aspect of his life was filled with meaning… Everything was extraordinary.”

I like her comment, “You’ve passed through all the lies you tell yourself. … he returned to what he really was.” I think that’s my theme. We all have a self-image that’s “improved”, like a Zoom image after you’ve used the “Touch Up My Appearance” feature (yes, it exists!). We all tell our stories with inconvenient facts edited out, and it takes an invisible toll. But some come through, and succeed in finding the freedom to be themselves, to be fully alive, in whatever circumstances they find themselves. I never quite realised before what courage it takes to be like that, especially in this world where trolls are happy to destroy people – especially those who plough their own furrow – through misinformation, division and hate, with the tools to do it.

I want to seek out those with the creative life force: their energy affects us as nothing else can.  There is much life and free spirit in the world – my list is getting longer by the day. If you choose people with inner life, their life-giving energy rubs off on you.  Who would you choose? Let me know. Let’s celebrate together!

David Whyte often has wise words on this subject. Here’s an excerpt from his poem Sweet Darkness (link to whole poem):

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

Which leaves me with a question for you and me to ponder. It’s this:

“When you have passed through all the lies you tell yourself, what is the you that you really are?

When do you feel most yourself? For sure it’s the best of you. Cherish it: it’s pure gold-vermilion.

Go well,

Judy

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED IN …

“Voice of Influence” – Voice and Public Speaking Coaching

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

My books, of course

I’m so happy if you have a look; even happier if you buy! Happiest of all if something I wrote means something to you.

The Art of Communication
How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life and also the most rewarding and fulfilling. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others.

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

Aikido and Communication Webinar
– in which I explore the subject of communication with master of Aikido Quentin Cooke, Aikido 7th Dan, in a webinar attended by martial arts practitioners and others interested in the somatics of communication. Sounds specialised? I assure you it’s full of nuggets for all of us.

Another not-going-anywhere day …

IMG_1558

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else?

Aikido and Communication

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

Reading

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

Let Go

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

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

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

And then there’s

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

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

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

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

Voice of Influence

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

Coaching

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

A Poem for Tricky Times

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

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

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

Here’s to happy serendipities this month,

Go well, friends,
Judy :-) xxx

 

Only connect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* This became the prologue of The Art of Communication.

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

Empathy is personal

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

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

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

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

Empathy is connection with your equal

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

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

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

How connection happens

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

It’s Either Or

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

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

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

So my intention this year is:

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

    Guy Standing puts it well:

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

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

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

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

My warmest good wishes to you,

Judy

 

BOOKS

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

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

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

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

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

COACHING

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

TIME FOR A POEM

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

I have News for You by Tony Hoagland

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

 

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

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

IMG_0210

Is “walking the talk” all it’s cracked up to be?

What is excellent leadership really made of?

I don’t even believe in gurus, but here’s my new one

There’s a well-used tiny book my mother-in-law kept by her bed in her last days that has now come to us. It measures about the same as an old iphone and is covered in scuffed leather, the spine broken, with a faded title embossed in the leather:

THE MEDITATIONS OF MARCVS AVRELIVS.

The Meditations is a kind of manual on how to live (and die) as a fine human being, written by a world leader. (See quotes for a flavour.) Marcus Aurelius, 121 – 180 CE, was born into a patrician family, and eventually became Roman Emperor, ruler over 60-70 million people from the Middle East to Britain. He was also well-known as a philosopher. I find what he says highly relevant today.

This edition was published in 1899, so clearly wasn’t new to my mother-in-law. From time to time, I leaf through it or allow it to open randomly to read a page. Today, I started from the beginning. Book 1 plunges straight in with no preamble:

“From my grandfather Verus, a good disposition and control of my temper.”

“From my mother, respect for religion, and a love of liberality; and the habit not only of checking evil actions, but also of repressing evil thoughts. From her, also, a simple way of living, and avoidance of luxury.”

In the next 19 pages, in considerable detail, Marcus Aurelius lists positive traits, attributes and values he has received from his family, tutors, friends and other people in his life. Don’t you think it’s remarkable – odd even, for a world leader – to start with 19 pages of gratitude?

I thought I’d have a go myself. Once I begin to remember how good fortune has come to me, it’s uncanny: every time I come across something that I think I achieved on my own, I find it’s never so. Indeed, there’s invariably a whole chain of different instances of ­­­­­help I’ve received on the way.

For instance, I was hugely proud of winning one of only two scholarships to an excellent private high school, after performing particularly well in the 11 plus exam. But I was really practised in intelligence tests, having spent 2 years in the top year of my junior Catholic school practising them day after day. My parents thought of that school because my aunt was dancing teacher there. They couldn’t afford it – but a wealthy great aunt offered to pay. I had 2 years in the top class because I was so young that the head teacher advised my parents to keep me at junior school an extra year. I was young for my year because my mother had taught me to read fluently before I ever went to school. I was quick with arithmetic because my father would play endless mathematical games with us when we were small.

And so it continues. I can take any personal achievement, throughout my life and find a chain of interventions from others that helped it to come about. In fact, for later achievements the chain gets longer and the serendipities ever more crucial. It certainly puts things in perspective.

I’m sure you have your own stories. Try it.

I’m thinking about it today, because one of the gifts of gratitude – apart from making you feel good  – is the way in which it makes other people more real for you. Gratitude is a reckoning but it’s also a feeling; and you cannot feel gratitude to another human being without catching their humanity. When I feel grateful to the postman for bringing me a wanted parcel, I acknowledge his reality – today it’s the reality that he’s tramping the streets, 8 or more miles a day, in temperatures of 34° to bring the post.

If, on the other hand, you think or pretend that you’ve achieved everything on your own, you neglect the people who are part of your story. Eventually, you actually believe that you got your prestigious well-paid job entirely on merit, forgetting early comfort and advantage, financial or other support, superior private education, connections to powerful people and much else. You forget. Neglecting the relevance of others leads irrevocably to cruelty. If you don’t even notice the mouse, how are you going to realise your foot is on its neck? I wonder idly if any of our classically trained political leaders today have come across Marcus Aurelius at all?

The ancient Greeks – classical education again – tell of the Lethe, river of oblivion, that brings you forgetfulness if you drink of it. Their word letheia means oblivion or forgetfulness. We live in forgetful times, I think.

But they also have a word with the opposite meaning. A-letheia means unforgetfulness, unconcealment – everything laid out in the open – and this is their word for truth.

I really like this definition of truth. The best leaders don’t forget; they don’t conceal. They don’t stand higher than everyone else thinking only of themselves, forgetting connection. No, they see cause and effect laid out in the open; they remember, they see people.

My daughter, as a child violinist, was asked to play viola in the National Children’s Orchestra. She found she loved it. The viola doesn’t usually get a star role; it’s neither the highest string instrument not the lowest; its tone is mellow. She explained her delight. The viola is right in the middle of the harmony, so really matters, and as a viola player you feel the wonderful sensation of bringing the harmony together with the sounds you make. You matter hugely, but your contribution is largely unnoticed until it’s absent.

I think great leaders have that. They matter hugely, but they don’t stand at the front like a peacock, primping and strutting their stuff, bending their small head decorated with a shock of beautiful hair with little knowledge of anything beyond their own superiority (and then leaving the female to get on with building the nest). On the contrary; they’re in the middle of everything that happens, their finger on the pulse. They have an acute sense of the whole, and they value contribution – they know gratitude.

When you notice any enterprise working well in this life, look out for the viola player, that person without whom nothing happens. It isn’t always instantly obvious. Ask yourself, who is the linch pin? For sure, they won’t be sitting in luxury on the top floor or constantly seeking the limelight. You’ll find them down where people are, validating, encouraging, bringing people together to achieve, and inspiring connection and gratitude.

– which of course is where I started.

Go well!
Judy

Plus

My Books

The Art of Conversation (2014) has sold many more copies so far than The Art of Communication (2019), but to my mind The Art of Communication is many ways the more exciting book. If you have come across both, tell me what you think.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms will still hit the spot if you are looking for ways to overcome performance nerves, shyness, timidity, awkwardness, stage fright … you know, all that stuff that none of us is really immune to.

Not forgetting: Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies, the best book for dipping into to solve vocal issues.

And Voice of Influence, my first and fundamental statement of what I’m about – how to find your own voice and use it to influence those around you.

Coaching

This year of uncertainty is a great time for coaching. You don’t need to be at a particular level professionally or even have a job to seek out a coach. Coaching takes you where you are at and gives you more confidence and sense of being the person you were meant to be.  Don’t hang back because you’re not sure if it’s for you. I can scarcely think of anyone it doesn’t benefit. If you want an informal chat to find out more, get in touch with me at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Talks

Email me at  judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk if you’d like me to give a talk or run a workshop in your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership or the subject of any of my books. I’d be delighted to discuss options with you.

 

 

 

From Lies and Disasters to Small Vital Truths

The-Summer-Day-600x350Musings in Solitary

How are you? Some people get increasingly distressed about the state of the world, others find inner calm.

I’m a grasshopper, sometimes I hop to one, sometimes the other. (Can a grasshopper find inner calm, hmm?)

It seems amazing to me how the mind can leap in an instant from staring into the abyss of planetary disaster to personal micro moments of joy. (And back again.) But that’s how it is for me at the moment. Are you sometimes like that too?

For me, it’s like this:

The book

With time for reading and good intention, I decided to buy a hefty “something worth reading”, which turned up last week. It’s The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. Written in 1859, it invites a slower reading pace than modern novels, with room for discussion  and contemplation in its 900 pages. And so, quite early on, (okay, I’m only a bare one centimetre through an eight-centimetre pleasure, as the Very Hungry Caterpillar might put it) I came upon this passage, which made me go, “wow, that’s it” and set me off on a train of thought.

51oER7psoDL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill – he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.”

The lies

Quite apart from reminding me of a couple of public figures (you too?) and unsettling me with its last phrase, it strikes me as a devastatingly accurate description not only of individuals but of our post-truth (=lying) age.

That got me on to musing that I spot lies more easily in these days of coronavirus. I’m certainly examining my own contradictions more (“the man who lies to himself”); but it’s outside stuff too, like one big hairy lie underlying everything. Who knew that our nation’s normal was so corroded? Who knew till now that caring on your own at home for someone with advanced dementia or a severely disabled child was so impossibly hard? Who knew that migrant health workers have to pay hundreds to pounds per year to access the NHS!? Who knew that people who whistle-blew about dangerous working conditions would lose their jobs? Who knew really that so many children are starving … well we knew and we didn’t know … oh so many things in our beautiful country – the 5th richest country in the world, by the way. No, really, the FIFTH richest country in the world.  I thought to myself, I don’t want to remain in ignorance. I want to know properly, genuinely, how things are in this lovely country of mine.

The global catastrophes

By now, I was on a roll. Why stop at the UK? I know the planet is in a bad way, climate emergency, biodiversity crisis, water shortages, mass people movements, war, famine – how could I not? But now …? Now I have time.  I read and watch the physicist and social activist Vandana Shiva (various great videos on YouTube), who describes a cogent pattern of economic genocide and ecocide, where a couple of asset management funds grow by a trillion dollars each a year (the USA as a whole grows by less), and the 5 richest men earn more than the total amount earned by half the world’s population; and the world’s commons, all that was once healthy and free, from water and air to seeds and land is privatised, stolen, polluted or damaged, necessitating ever more poison, pharma, oil, war, which creates more climate and biodiversity destruction, necessitating in its turn more poison, pharma, oil, war …. and certain forces grown powerful through plunder find agents to deliver lying hate messages that manipulate us to attack the wrong targets, i.e. people – blacks, Muslims, immigrants, women – and thus to elect unsuitable leaders who continue the devastating cycle; this idiocy precluding any rescue from the global challenge of climate breakdown, which is set to make vast areas of India, Africa and Australia too hot for human life within little more than a decade and cause mass migration on a scale far in excess of what we’ve seen to date, with the grim realisation that attempts to solve migration issues haven’t gone too well so far… . (Is that a long enough sentence for you, Dostoevsky?!)

Coronavirus is like the next act in a cosmic joke isn’t it? Okay, says the Almighty: I’ve sent tornados, I’ve sent droughts and floods and fires and plagues of locusts. When are you going to understand that the only way you’re going to solve this one is through cooperation; all other ways boomerang back to hit you.  Coronavirus spreading through Africa and Asia amongst the poor and deprived threatens all of us. Mass migration due to heat and drought affects all of us. Pollution affects all of us.  The winners don’t win here.

The beatitudes

The grasshopper hops again to remind me that I am a winner, in my comparative comfort in this lovely place, in cleaner air, this beautiful spring with the new spirit of generosity that’s abroad. I do feel grateful. I look around me, and my whole existence depends on others – house, chair, laptop, water, plumbing, electrics, waste disposal, clothes, food, deliveries, medicines, dental treatment, let alone doctors, nurses, parenting, education, relationships, kindnesses from every direction – the list could go on and on. I do feel gratitude, I do, ever more so now.

But I don’t want to ignore this global narrative anymore. The planet is in the ICU and needs our attention at this critical moment, never more than now. How can we say: “Dear grandchildren, I just let it happen?” At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to find out what is happening, sift out the truth from different sources and angles. Our Daily Rag is not enough! We need to know properly what is happening. We need to tell each other what we discover. And now is the time, before normal slides insidiously back. There are more of us that want the good of all, we are the majority. We can do something.

The joy

And we all know it really.  Clarity emerges in this quiet.  Where do clarity and truth emerge from, if not peace and quiet? As I listen to birdsong outside this early evening, there’s something else. Apart from world upheaval and our human debt … apart from THAT! … I find nothing more real or truthful than this moment here and now. They talk about one’s heart being full – I know what they mean, don’t you? Micro moments of joy.

Joy isn’t thinking; it’s a fleeting feeling, breath, pulse, vibration, a transient surge of energy that happens before verbal cognition.

That moment of loving a piece of music before you tell yourself its name.

That breath of surrender to beautiful nature just before you realise that you are finding it beautiful.

The sudden memory triggered of a special moment with a loved one now absent, before you feel the sadness of their absence.

The moment of pleasure in something you have just done, before you think about what you’ve just done.

The moment before the moment you realise that you’re smiling to yourself.

Now, when life has become less varied and less peopled for most of us, is a good time to capture those fleeting moments. They occur every day. I wonder what nano-instances of joy come into your awareness today.

If this speaks to you, I am happy. If it doesn’t, you probably haven’t read this far! I recognise that we are all in different circumstances during this epidemic. Whatever your situation, I send you warmest good wishes and hope for better things to come.

This too shall pass.

Judy

The first springtime of my life

The Thrree Witches

The Thrree Witches

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

 

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

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

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

If anything, I’ve turned to philosophy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Wishing you so well,
Judy

 

Connection …

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

Connection Space

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

 

Saving the world with a bit of intuition and quite a lot of grammar

Screenshot 2020-01-09 at 17.48.27

 

How do you know what you know?

Presumably, you’ve been in the world quite a few years:

how did you learn everything that you now know?

How do you learn now?

Knowledge

When I think about how I learn now, I’m aware of how much I pick up from reading, much of it on the internet; through newspapers too – and books, lots from books…. I pick up from listening – to radio, TV, to people in my life. It’s information learning. If I trust it, I take it on board and remember it. I think I’m discerning about it.

Rumi, born 800 years before the internet, has something to say about intelligence acquired from books and from what the teacher says:

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

Experience

All good, especially if you have your eyes on success. But there’s another kind of learning that doesn’t need to be agreed with or trusted, because we experience it. Take learning to walk. Balance is something you experience. It isn’t a matter of trusting information or not. When you’re out of balance, you fall down. No one tells you what to do or what to learn in infancy in order to be able to walk. The doing is the learning. You get to know what balance feels like, and you walk. What a miracle it is to learn to walk! How many muscles do you control at the same time when you succeed in walking – 200 or so? All at the same time! Imagine working your way through a written manual, “How to Walk”! People who have to relearn in adulthood have to do the equivalent of just that. And they are much more likely to fall down and mistrust it: “Walking’s not for me any more. I don’t trust it’s possible. Might as well give up now.”

These two ways of learning carry on through life. We tend more and more to use information learning as we grow up. Most people like learning to be neat and practical:

10 ways to become a better public speaker

5 tips to guarantee success in business

10 steps to the perfect golf swing

6 vital lessons to teach your kids

Every time I work with coaches, presenters or leaders the questions are the same, “Tell me what to do in order to …” “Yes, but what should I do?” “Give me the five steps!”

Yet, in these areas, as in many others, the most important intelligence is something you already have. As Rumi describes it:

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Inside and Outside

You pick up knowledge from the outside and take it in. But this other learning arises within. What would we call this “freshness in the center of the chest” nowadays? Intuition? Instinct? It’s not book learning. I would call it feeling. It’s feeling that tells you that you are walking in balance. It’s feeling that alerts you to something amiss or an instinct to follow. Empathy is a feeling.

You can have feelings about someone.

You can have feelings for someone.

You can have feelings with someone.

You can have feelings as someone.

Ah, (to divert for a moment) these prepositions! Europeans who learn English think at first that it’s an easy language – no different genders for everything, easy plurals, easy declensions of verbs. But then they meet prepositions. They are suddenly faced with a jumble of completely different meanings all resting on the addition of a preposition to a simple verb. Consider the verb “take” followed by different prepositions:

Take off:     I took off my jeans – removed
He took off Benny Hill – imitated

Take to:      I really took to tennis – warmed to, enjoyed

Take out:    Take me out to dinner – invite me to
He took out the terrorist – killed him

Take on:     The company took him on – employed him
Don’t take on so – make such a fuss
I’ll take you on – compete with you

Take in:      I couldn’t take it in – understand it
I took him in and let him stay – gave accommodation to
I was taken in by his charm – deceived.

Take over:  He took over the world – conquered

Take after:  She takes after her mother – resembles

Take back:  I take back what I said – revoke

Take up:     I’m going to take up French – start to learn

Take off:     The plane took off – launched

Take down: Take down what I say – record
They took him down – destroyed him

Stop!! Okay, I’m getting carried away.

Back to feeling. Prepositions are at work here too.

I can feel for you, which means that I have warm feelings when I think about you. If you are distressed,

I can have feelings about your distress, which probably means that I have some intellectual understanding of what you are going through.

I can feel sympathy, which is to feel with: i.e. I feel pity with your suffering; as we read of disasters in the newspaper, our feeling is often one of sympathy.

And finally, I can feel empathy, which is to be inside your feeling, to feel what you are feeling, to feel the same distress that you feel.

Empathy

Now, to be inside someone’s feeling is something remarkable. It isn’t book learning; it’s not acquisition of knowledge, though knowledge can help. Empathy doesn’t have words, though I may decide to speak. It isn’t the same as pity, though pity may be present. It’s experiencing the same quality that you are feeling: experiencing your actual pain; experiencing your joy. It’s my heart beating with your beat; being in tune with your being; coming together with you in the place where you are now.

I can book-learn your distress. I can learn your body language, how you sound and the light in your eye when you are in a particular state, just as I can learn to speak in public by adopting particular body language, a particular tone of voice and a particular kind of eye contact. And that works, sort of.

But true empathy shortcuts all that. I just step inside you and feel what you feel and, feeling what you feel, I understand you. It’s only possible if I am thin-skinned, if I haven’t built up that armour of self-protection that most people wear. Thin skinned means vulnerable: I have to be vulnerable.

People who put intellect above feeling will say that it’s hardly helpful to feel distress at someone’s distress, as all you do is to fall into the emotional same hole as the other person. But the greatest resource of the coach, counsellor, doctor, teacher, leader or carer is to feel true empathy – to be entirely present with the other person – but without drowning in their distress: to feel their pain, and to know as you breathe and stay open that you are more than that pain and can be beside the other person holding them safe even as you feel their pain. To do that represents both an instant resource and requires a lifetime of learning.

It’s 2020, the world looks bad; now more than ever, empathy is our only possible answer. So yes, by all means, set your resolutions this year to learn the 5 important steps, maintain the 10 best ways, follow the 3 vital answers … But know too, as you know anything truly important, that you already have within you the ability to walk beside another and feel the reality of them, and that this, available to all of us now, is by far our most powerful asset going forward into 2020.

Happy New Year :-)

My TEDx Talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say”

This talk I gave a few months ago touches on similar themes. You can find it on TED.com. Please share it if you enjoy it.

The Art of Communication:
How to Be Authentic, Lead Others and Create Strong Connections

Have you dipped into my latest book? Maybe it would make a New Year present to yourself? Here’s a snippet from the final chapter on ways to be with another person.

And so it happens that one day you are talking with someone, and you become aware that you both are, in a place of betweenness. There’s no sense of doing; no one is leading; and you feel the powerful frisson of connection within that space. It’s like the relationship between a musician and her instrument. A musician never masters his instrument but joins with it. The music that results is neither musician nor instrument yet comes about because of both.

The field of awareness between you is the space where magic happens, where there is no you, no me, just the space we create together.

“The characters for “human being” in Japanese mean “person” and “between”. Thus, you as a human being exist only through your relations with others.”

My other books:

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

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

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

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

Did you see my article on the Art of Good Communication
in Intercontinental Finance and Law magazine?

Follow the link; then it’s on pages 12-13.

Don’t Play the Blame Game

A date for your diaries – Sunday 29th March in London: A Spirit of Coaching event, open to all coaches and those interested in coaching. Further details shortly.

Simple short ecourses

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share these with friends. Okay, knowledge learning, but useful for all that!

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