The Big Breath

4b5e746ac1369668f22c8a6f199bda32--relaxation-quotes-relaxing-quotesI don’t think I’ve ever before understood so little of a book and yet been intrigued enough to carry on reading it nonetheless. I bought The Cosmic Hologram a couple of months ago after being captivated by a presentation given by the author, cosmologist Jude Currivan. Her story of our Universe ranges dizzyingly from cosmology to quantum mechanics, starting from the big bang.

Only, according to the latest cosmological evidence, it wasn’t big. And it wasn’t a bang. The evidence she cites suggests that our Universe is finite and that its original super-rapid expansion was exquisitely ordered and fine-tuned, more like a big breath than a big bang – which echoes nicely the ancient Vedic sages of India who envisaged the beginning of the Universe as an out-breath of the cosmic creator Brahma.

I like the image of the big breath. There’s a short poem by E E Cummings written during the 2nd World War whose image presages the scientific evidence too:

when
god decided to invent 
everything he took one 
breath bigger than a circustent 
and everything began

(Here’s the whole poem – the second verse pulls no punches.)

Everything starts with breath

If you’re curious about communication, expression, presence, connection or energy – any of these things – you can’t fail to be interested in breath. It’s the starting point of all our attempts to communicate with each other and indeed do almost anything. No work on voice projection and tone, body language or “getting your message across” bears any fruit without going back to fundamentals of breath – and not so much the physical act itself as the original impulse behind it.

Whenever you speak, before any sound comes from your mouth, your thought/emotion initiates a breath – not any old breath, but a breath whose energy and character exquisitely matches what you have to communicate and which is designed to create the particular sounds that express what you have to say.

You can hear this particularly clearly in the transparent communication of young children. However, as sound is so revealing of truth, most adults learn to interfere with the breath-to-sound connection, so that the resulting sound expresses habitual control and obfuscation (however much they paste expressiveness on top). But even then the breath tells the truth – in this case the truth of obfuscation.

If you want to communicate – genuinely communicate – everything leads back to how much you allow breathing to play its part.

Breath as a powerful support

Breath is your friend – it’s kept you alive till now! It’s especially your friend when you feel troubled or fearful. For instance:

  • An extended steady in-breath through the nose in its measured character invites steady expression, and thus gives you courage to speak or act.
    .
  • A feeling of excitement energising your in-breath gives your expression a power that a fearful breath lacks, and brings to your sound a sense of commitment and positivity.
    .
  • A huge in-breath – a breath “bigger than a circus-tent” – carries you over hurdles, such as making a statement that feels hard to say. If we took a breath that big, couldn’t you and I do anything?
    .
  • The out-breath too – when you sigh, your whole respiratory system is able to release and reset. If you were tense, you release. If you were stubbornly holding on to something, you let go. If you weren’t able to think before, suddenly on the next breath you can.

Breathing carries you through anything – fear, anxiety, pain. When things are bad, breathe! When you are tense, breathe! When you feel awkward, breathe! When a conversation falters, breathe! When you want to feel – joy, love, peace – breathe! And things become easier. A breath gets you into motion again, and in motion life moves on to a better place. And if you want to breathe, breath out.

Breath and intuition

Speaking-skills coaches who talk about breath at all often concentrate on the muscles required for the in-breath. But, as I was newly reminded at a yoga class recently, if you direct your attention to a full outbreath, the consequent in-breath takes on the nature of a release or surrender. It’s a powerful surrender however – a gathering up of energy – and on that in-breath any accompanying yoga movement that in the normal way might be effortful becomes light and easy.

That surrender is much more than a physical release. Breath is physical and mental – emotional and spiritual too. That relaxed in-breath after an intentional out-breath opens the unconscious mind with a wonderful sense of liberation to new clarity and lateral thinking inaccessible to the logic of the conscious mind. It’s the moment when “don’t know” gives birth to sound intuition.

Just a single breath? Well, yes. I’ve found, when I inexpertly practise meditation, that if I remind myself that, rather than a clock-aware 20 minutes, one single breath – this breath – is enough, then that breath has the quality and depth to illuminate (whether or not I then continue for more minutes.)

Breathe, breathe, breathe

So today – in the interest of business success, leadership, creativity, focus and better relationships, not to mention health, wealth and personal wellbeing and whatever else matters to you – pay attention to your breath. Try any of the following:

  • Take a moment to to breathe right out and, with full awareness of the experience, allow the in-breath to be a complete letting go.
  • Sigh out at any odd moment of pleasure and catch the often missed joy of the in-breath that follows.
  • Breathe-sigh out especially at any moment of difficulty – be it exasperation, worry, envy or boredom – and then witness the release on the in-breath, watching for any minute seed of insight that might pop into your mind. You’ll have to be awake to catch it though – it could be light as gossamer.

Then notice how life flows more, how your mind works better, how relationships are easier – how the quantum-smallness of a single breath is connected with the cosmic-vastness of larger purpose in your own life as well as in the broader scope of the Universe.

Just before posting this today I cycled into town along a country track by a stream. Suddenly, a heron flew up from almost under my wheels and I gasped with the thrill of it. What a large elegant bird close up! We talk about moments that take your breath away, and this was one of those, but in fact (and I’d never quite noticed this before), it was a sudden sharp intake of air – a beautiful release.

Sometimes it’s the same moments that take your breath away that breathe purpose and love back into your life. Steve Maraboli

Go well,

Judy

What Else?

Lots about breath in my books

Dip in for help with communication, presenting and voice … life even …

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

Voice and Communication Coaching

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

Download any of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

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

 

 

I’m Giving Up on Authenticity

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

I’m giving up on authenticity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So three cheers for the great ocean of possibility today.

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

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

(says Wendy in Disney’s Peter Pan)

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

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

What else?

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body. Self consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Speak Easy: The essential guide to speaking in public

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

Download any of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

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

 

Self-conscious, Unconscious, Conscious …

Hakuin

Hakuin’s circle

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

Bulldozer

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

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

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

The cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What isn’t possible then?!

Greetings everyone! Go well.

Judy

 

What else?

My Books

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

Voice and Communication Coaching

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

Download some of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

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

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

Did you ask a good question today?

Snow Leopard from National Geographic

Snow Leopard from National Geographic – video link below

When I was living in London years ago, a man in his fifties approached me for clarinet lessons. He wanted to take up the instrument secretly to be in tune with his 10-year-old son who’d just started lessons. It turned out that this man was Associate Editor of the Sunday Times, and during several years of lessons I got to know him quite well.

There was one thing that surprised me about a man in his position, and that was his willingness in any context to ask questions that I sometimes thought were rather dumb. It made me realise how often I myself held back from asking questions in case they sounded stupid. When my Sunday Times pupil asked naive-sounding questions, little by little he got at the truth. If he could ask dumb questions, why couldn’t I? Coming as I did from a family who didn’t ask for help even when hopelessly lost, this was somewhat of a revelation.

Out of the mouth of babes

Another ten-year-old, Hannah Bradshaw, leaped into the limelight this week when she asked a couple of questions of American Congressman Jason Chaffetz at a town hall meeting in his home state of Utah. Chaffetz, together with over 56% of congressional republicans is a climate-change denier (yes, I know, 56%). Hannah asked, “What are you doing to help protect our water and air for our generations and my kids’ generations?” … followed by the simple question, “Do you believe in science? Because I do.” Out of the mouth of babes – what a beautiful question! Chaffetz blustered for quite a while with political inanities and people started yelling at him, “Answer the question!” But he couldn’t find a satisfactory response, and eventually boos and outbursts from the crowd ended the town hall meeting in chaos.

Inventing dumb questions

I think it might be appropriate in our age to bring back more dumb/naive/simple questions. Randomly, I’ve just thought of:

Why do weather forecasters describe sunshine as beautiful weather and rain as bad weather? (My Ugandan friend finds it most puzzling! She says rain means glorious green fields, food crops and water to drink.)

Why do we talk about glorious war, but not glorious bullying?

Why is pleasurable extended endeavour called ‘hard work’?

What ‘dumb’ questions can you think of? Children tend to be best at this:

Why is the sky dark at night?
What holds the universe up?
Where did your life come from?

Einstein was pretty good at it:

What if I could ride a beam of light across the universe?

The best questions

Naive questions can work brilliantly in meetings – for instance,

Why exactly are we doing this particular thing?

when everyone is rushing headlong into the what and how of an initiative.

Have you ever been at a conference or seminar where someone asks the dumb question everyone wanted to ask but didn’t dare to? As people hear the question, you hear a tiny sigh of satisfaction around the room. So maybe it wasn’t a dumb question after all?

Another crucial dumb question is the one asked by someone who is new to an organisation. “Why do we do this particular task?” “Why do we talk about our clients (or women, or management) in this way?” they ask, cutting through the company culture and organisational bias, forcibly struck by injustices that everyone else has become blind to through familiarity.

Beginner’s mind

When we get used to something, questions stop. One of the secrets of creative thinking is to come at everything without preconceptions – with “beginners’ mind”, approaching everything with clear-eyed wonder as if we have never encountered it in our lives before. For when we are fully awake and attentive, we have never encountered it before; nothing is already known and many questions arise. (By the way, I used the snow leopard for the picture above because the animal in this National Geographic silent video seems to portray brilliantly clear-eyed wonder that reaches every fibre.) Henri Matisse as an old man said his aim was still “to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.” In this state, questions are simple and profound.

Maybe dumb questions asked by geniuses are what we desperately need more of in our world today? Nobel laureate scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi’s mother used to ask her after school each day: “Issie, did you ask a good question today?”

So what are the questions for you? I know we all have our own personal filters, that we see the world as we are rather than as it is. But what are you not seeing, or refusing to see? What’s staring you in the face? What simple naive question might jolt you into a moment of realisation? What is the question you need to ask? – that is the question.

 

OTHER THOUGHTS

Coaching

Feeling stuck? Don’t know what questions to ask yourself? Decision time? Need an impartial listening ear? 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.

Jason Harrison

I attended an interesting workshop with Jason last month. His thoughtful article on confusion links quite well with my theme this month.

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? 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.

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

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 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
25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence. Discover how to perform brilliantly when 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.

Workshops

Want some help in your organisation on communicating, presenting, voice, confidence, NLP or coaching? My workshops are practical, energising and highly effective. Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

In England this week, we’re loving the spring sunshine.
Happy times wherever you are.

Go well,

 

Judy

Are you cool, calm and collected?

IMG_4820Wouldn’t it be good to be productive and successful all the time
and deal with everything calmly?

Well, yes. But …

That absorbing author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said something that struck me this week: “Life doesn’t always follow an ideology,” she said, “You might believe in certain things and life gets in and things just become messy. You know?”

I know. I often felt like that during February, which can be a flat month for many. I worked hard at this and that; I fulfilled family responsibilities a bit here and a bit there; I felt over-worked one week and slightly wearied the next, and I experienced satisfaction at one minute and dissatisfaction the next. What happened to motivation, regular meditation, disciplined writing, order and direction? How did life get messy while my back was turned? Perhaps you’ve been in this situation yourself?

Cool, calm and collected

Oh, to be cool, calm and collected all the time!  I like the word “collected” – it’s such an old-fashioned term, and I like the image it conjures of all the disparate parts of a person being gathered up to make a congruent whole.

Though I don’t fully understand the meaning of “collected”, I know exactly what the opposite feels like. It’s that disjointed feeling as if bits of the self have been allowed to split off and pull in different directions; and life gets messy.

Grey patches

Why is it that life moves forward purposefully at one time, and then doesn’t? “Well, why not?” is one answer. Even the most brilliant artists, scientists  and leaders don’t accomplish without pause. I’ve been reading the poems of Mary Oliver recently (here’s a fascinating interview about her work). She has had a few hundred poems published in her long life, but there was a decade between her first book and her second, then six more years before her third. I don’t know how long it takes to write a poem, but I reckon that gives time for a lot of living in between.

We are easily seduced by witnessing only the highlights of other people’s existence into thinking that their lives are one long flow of glorious accomplishment. Even Facebook can give the false impression that a friend’s life is a continuous celebration of joy and success.

Mary Oliver speaks of the problem of purposeful living in one of her best-known poems, The Summer Dayin which she describes in detail a grasshopper that has landed on her hand and talks of strolling idly through fields all day. She concludes,

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Chief gremlin

So what to do about those “non-flow” times?  Mary Oliver doesn’t provide the answer, though she challenges with her question – as if to say, “So, I strolled through the fields all day and paid attention… SO? What else should I have done?!”

I recognise my own chief disintegration gremlin – it’s that old friend “ought”. “Ought” is brilliant at disrupting any activity. I start on a piece of writing that interests me, and ten minutes in, “ought” taps me on the shoulder, “You ought to be getting on with that course manual, don’t you think?” I switch task and have only just started on the manual when I feel another tap, “Oughtn’t you phone your son now before he gets to work?” Having failed to get through on the phone, I get another poke, “Getting frustrated are you? You ought to be more disciplined about meditating every day and then you’d be calmer, don’t you agree?” On it goes and my day becomes ever more fragmented.

Collecting myself

The funny thing is, I do know how to collect myself. Here’s one example: a while ago, I went on a peace of mind retreat to Mt Abu in India, where much of each day was spend in quiet meditation or other thoughtful pursuits. Towards the end of my time there, two different people invited me to join them in an activity on the same afternoon. Both invitations felt important in different ways, and I found myself worrying, unable to decide which to accept. In the atmosphere of Mt Abu, instead of telling myself negative stories or continuing to run through all the pros and cons, let alone all the oughts and shoulds, of the situation, I stopped and sat on a low wall, and cleared my thoughts for a few tranquil moments. Then I stood up and knew exactly what I was going to do – cool, calm and collected. How simple.

I think that a part of collecting yourself is knowing – trusting – that you cannot get life wrong – that it’s alright, that you will get through, whatever you choose. As Galway Kinnell tells us in his famous prayer of the three is’s:

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

And you collect yourself and know that whatever happens is okay – you want “what is”. Dark February, windy March, primroses in April – it’s all completely and entirely okay.

 

ALSO TO SHARE 

Coaching

Feeling stuck? Need a nudge? 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

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? 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.

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

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.

Workshops

Want some help in your organisation on communicating, presenting, voice, confidence, NLP or coaching? My workshops are practical, energising and effective. Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

Have a good month.

Go well,

Judy

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