Paul

IMG_9026I don’t know what made me think of Paul.

Well, I do actually. I was listening to Radio 3 when they played Musetta’s aria from Act 2 of La Bohème. As the music soared, I started reminiscing about the years I lived in Italy, and my mind drifted to the audition that had won me a scholarship to study at the Music Conservatory in Rome. Paul, who was a member of the small instrumental ensemble I sang with, had accompanied me on the piano for that audition.

Paul: eighteen or so years old at the time, younger than the rest of us. Skinny, quiet, unassuming; in my memory he lived solely on egg and chips. But also dependable Paul, Paul the fine musician, who could play anything you put in front of him, plus extemporise and write arrangements to suit our ensemble.

I idly wondered what had happened to him, and Googled his name.

Oh my goodness, there he was – with less hair and middle-aged, but unmistakeably the person I knew, still with that gentle demeanour. I then looked up his bio, and that’s when I caught my breath. As pianist and as conductor, he has accompanied some of the greatest and most famous musicians in the world, including José Carreras, Jessye Norman, Bryn Terfel, Sumi Jo, Lesley Garrett and Paul McCartney. He has performed piano concertos. He has conducted West End shows including Singin’ In The Rain, Barnum, Charlie Girl, The Phantom of the Opera and Carmen Jones. He has conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras. There was also a long list of recordings. How on earth had I missed it all?

Back then, there were five of us in our ensemble. What gave rise to Paul’s career? He was the unassuming, un-pushy one. He didn’t talk much. He wasn’t the ideas man of our music group; he went along with whatever was happening and then played whatever was needed and made it look easy.

When I think about him now, two qualities stand out.

The first is clarity. Music was what he was about. That’s what he was – a fine musician. He loved music and it absorbed his energies. As a result he became very good at it. That gave an impressive clarity to how one thought about him. You knew that if he was playing, you’d enjoy the music making, and the music would be wonderful.

The second quality is a lack of ego. He didn’t make a noise and a fuss. He didn’t promote himself – he promoted music generously, and music is about relationship. Many people worry about publicity, competition, self-promotion and all the rest. But when there’s a single mindedness and clarity about what you are and do, others notice anyway and want to join with you.

So I take this from my reminiscence:

Do what you love; love what you do.

Give it your wholehearted attention and energy.

Learn to do it well. Be always learning.

Enjoy generous cooperation in your chosen field.

Thanks, Paul.

WHAT ELSE?

Guildford Coaching Group

1 December in Guildford
I’m running a morning session for coaches on Unconscious Bias. We all display bias, but much of it’s unconscious – so what on earth can we do about it? It’s got me thinking, and hopefully will get you thinking too. Book early as these events are popular and numbers are limited.

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. 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

What holds you back? You might think that your own particular set of difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how a simple conversation with a coach helps you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. Six months from now you’ll be saying, as other have, I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago! 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.

Lack of ego – a poem

No one writes better on this subject than T S Eliot. Try this from his Four Quartets:

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

Newsletter Archive

Look here for older blogs – just scroll down. Or click on one of the descriptive tags to sort the archive.

 

 

Limitations and Mistakes

download-2What would you be proud to read on your gravestone? Judging by the advertised efforts of many people’s lives, I imagine that some would like to see,

          At least 
        I didn't make 
        any mistakes

If I found such an inscription, I’d be tempted to add the graffiti,

e x c e p t  d y i n g,  o b v i o u s l y

How well we’ve all been taught to believe that mistakes are bad! “Oh, only 98%?” asks the kindly father of a conscientious student; “What about the other 2%?” “How can I best help?” thinks the teacher, “Oh, point out all the mistakes, obviously.”

In the face of such criticism, we learn to blame others, to reason our way out of difficulties and especially to invent fine excuses (even to ourselves). Politicians and company bosses never make mistakes, have you noticed? Wouldn’t you love to hear a politician put their current intelligence and wisdom down to the number of mistakes they’ve made getting there rather than parrot the only too familiar, “I’ve done nothing wrong”?

A young artist I know has set himself the challenge of creating a daily ink drawing without correction – whatever he sets down on the page stays. His method is producing some beautiful images. Sometimes a ‘mistake’ is used to take his design in a different direction from the original idea, often resulting in something superior to his original plan. So his deliberate self-limitation in not correcting mistakes actually aids his creativity.

Wonderful inventions sometimes occur after a mistake or disaster, when a scientist allows his creativity free rein. The chance discovery of penicillin through a petri dish culture growth that “went wrong” is well known. A more rigid mind would have missed the clue in the “failed” experiment.

An engineer working for Canon thoughtlessly put his soldering iron down on his pen and then, as the pen heated up, ink squirted out of the nib. Instead of annoyance, he foresaw the invention of the inkjet printer.

Viagra was developed to treat patients with angina. When the scientists noticed its famous effect during trials, instead of cursing an unwanted by-product, they envisaged a new use. It is now the most popular medication in the US for treating impotence.

Creative people don’t mind mistakes, and even welcome limitations. If an artist finds himself with only chalk and slate, or sand on a tidal beach, he makes use of what he has, not as a limitation but as an opportunity. In fact, limitations excite the artist’s creative mind, and provoke fresh ideas. Being given the challenge to fit a poetic idea into fourteen lines or a painting into a limited palette helps the unconscious in its creativity. Even a tight deadline gets the juices going. An unsolved problem or impasse pump-primes the process. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

Some of the stories are inspiring. The Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari, whose violins are still considered the very best 300 years after his death, made some amazing violins from seeing possibility in discarded broken waterlogged oars he found in the docks in Venice.

The creators of prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux in France used natural shapes and imperfections in the rock face as features of their designs. Sculptors are stimulated to use faults in natural marble and wood as essential parts of the form.  The great Japanese painter Hakuin’s simple O painted with a single rapid brush stroke arouses more passion in the beholder than any perfect circle.

Mistakes in work throw up new possibilities. A successful film-maker interviewed on a radio programme recently suggested that his tight budget had been a blessing in disguise. He said, “If you have money you order from a list, if not, you have to think of new ways to make things happen.”

One of the best places to find creative mistakes is in improvisation. J S Bach, Mozart and Leonardo Da Vinci were all brilliant musical improvisers. Musicians who improvise use inevitable “mistakes” to create a new pattern or direction. There’s no going back; so they make the way forward more exciting and interesting by using what happened by mistake as an integral part of their design, going with whatever happens. You might even call impro the art of “going with”. In dramatic improv, some of the most gloriously funny episodes emerge from “mistakes”.

In film too: in one take of a scene in the film On the Waterfront, the actress dropped her glove by mistake. Marlon Brando picked it up and, carrying on talking to her, put the glove on his much larger hand. The action was so unthinking and meaningful that the scene became famous as an example of brilliant spontaneity.

A novelist plans his story, and then at a certain point his fictional characters refuse to fit the mould he has planned for them and begin to take on a life of their own. At this point, the wise novelist gives up rigid control of his plan and goes with the direction the characters are taking. The book then opens up into something more interesting and exciting than the writer could have imagined beforehand.

Stephen Nachmanovich, author of one of my favourite books, Free Play, writes:

Looking out, now, over the ocean, the birds, the vegetation, I see that absolutely everything in nature arises from the power of free play sloshing against the power of limits.

SO why, why, why do we beat ourselves up about mistakes? Why do we (well, why does the media) insist that no person in public life can make a mistake, that what he or she said in 1992 cannot gainsaid by any later accumulation of wisdom. This is madness in full light of day. And we go along with it.

What distresses me most is the extent to which we hold ourselves back. I hate to make mistakes. How many times have I inhibited myself, not spoken up, not volunteered, not made a leap in the dark, to avoid making a mistake? Far too many, I fear. And I fill that scary space of lost opportunity with busy business and items of mundane importance, and a thousand excellent reasons (I’ve got SO good at reasons!) for my lack of action.

I’m not going to criticise myself for it. There’s been too much self-criticism. But I am going to shine a bit of light on the fear that others taught me long ago. Fear, you are a useful feeling, but I’ve set the trip switch needlessly low. Time to change that I think.

I like David Whyte’s words on the subject:

Let my history then
be a gate unfastened
to a new life
and not a barrier
to my becoming.

Also the down-to-earth words of Oscar Wilde,

Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.

The only things one never regrets are ones mistakes? Wow! In that case, what really good mistakes can you make today? Or, to put it another way, what might you do today if you absolutely knew that nothing you did could possibly be a mistake? Absolutly NUTHIN?

What might you not do?!

Go well!

Judy

 

OTHER MATTERS

I haven’t asked before, but if you’ve ready any of my books and enjoyed it, I’d be very happy if you’d write a review on Amazon – short as you like!

If you haven’t read them, I hope you find them useful. Here they are with their Amazon blurbs – available in print and e-versions:

Voice of Influence
– How to Get People to Love to Listen to You

....a fascinating mind-body approach to finding your authentic voice and 
expressing yourself with integrity, presence and passion. --Judith Lowe, NLP 
Trainer, PPD Learning Ltd
Should be on the reading list of anyone who wants to learn how to communicate 
more effectively and how to be more authentic and charismatic in putting across 
their messages. --Celia Morris, Training & Development Manager, Railways Mott 
MacDonald Ltd

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
– 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence

I love the elegance, accessibility and clarity of this book and shall certainly 
be recommending it to clients and colleagues alike. --Kate Burton, coach and 
author of For Dummies guides to NLP, Coaching and Confidence.
 If you've ever faced the fear of public speaking, this brilliant book is 
essential reading! Judy Apps provides super strategies for becoming a confident 
communicator. Her easy-to-learn and thorough approach tackles every aspect of 
speaking with great examples, stories and exercises. --Arielle Essex, author of 
Compassionate Coaching

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies

Whether you dream of commanding thousands with the power of your voice, or you′d 
just like to get your point across more clearly and convincingly, you′ve come to 
the right place. Not another presentation or public speaking primer, this book 
schools you in timeless principles that work equally well when addressing packed 
stadiums, in intimate gatherings and even during one–to–one conversations. 
Discover how to use your voice to surprise, seduce, soothe, intimidate, amuse, 
motivate and more. And, with the help of fun, easy voice exercises, you′ll 
quickly master critical elements such as breathing, rhythm, modulation, pitch 
and pacing.

The Art of Conversation
Change Your Life with Confident Communication

Good conversation is at the heart of networking, meetings, interviews, 
negotiations and raising your profile. It can ease your way in work, enabling 
you to build alliances, create strong relationships with staff, bosses and 
clients, succeed at interviews, motivate and inspire. But conversation is 
something most of us were never taught! Why is it some of us are stuck for words,
 but others blabber or can’t stop? What is it that some people have naturally 
which enables them to converse comfortably and easily, to engage people and build
 better relationships?
The Art of Conversation will show you step by step how to converse skilfully 
and enjoyably with other people, at home, at work, on the phone and in the street-
 even if you’re daunted now, discover the difference good conversation can make in
 every aspect of your life.

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

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 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.

 

Boxes

Stop putting me in Boxes

everybodyhasabrain.tumblr.com

I have this little half-jingle going round my head about foxes and boxes. I look it up. It’s from When We Were Very Young by A A Milne:

Once upon a time there were three little foxes
Who didn’t wear stockings, and they didn’t wear sockses,
But they all had handkerchiefs to blow their noses,
And they kept their handkerchiefs in cardboard boxes.

Only the foxes aren’t in boxes. It’s handkerchiefs. Boxes though. I get the feeling that there’s a lot of stuff in boxes these days, and not only peaches and chocolates or even handkerchiefs. People too.

Do you know what boxes you are in? I filled in a preferred supplier form the other day: “What is your ethnic group?” There was a list with 18 choices, and my group had English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish all lumped into the one box – boxes within boxes: tick.

“What is your religion?” The box is much too small for me to write what I’d like to write: “Catholic in a Salzburg Baroque church last month listening to musicians from Munich, Muslim for one day a while ago at an amazing lecture on mediaeval Islamic astronomers, rooted in the Church of England one quiet moment in an English country church; Buddhist that peaceful time in the ashram – and those Methodist hymns …” Run out of space, what next?

“What is your sex?” “I’m a woman.” Yes, but what kind of woman are you? Hetero? Gay? Lesbian? Bi-sexual? Trans? Pansexual?

Even as I write these words I feel myself losing you. Talk about boxes seems a bit dangerous. Might I be displaying prejudice here? Did I get the labels correct? Am I anti anything I shouldn’t be anti?

Alright, I’ll try to explain better. First, there is a huge amount of sorting into boxes in our current world. Sorting gives us information; information allows us to make decisions and decisions are useful if not necessary. Also, sorting gives us straightforward decisions, so that saves money. Think of the difference between marking a public exam paper where you have to assess the merit of a piece of reasoned thinking and one that has multiple-choice answers. The latter is much easier – and cheaper. (“Here’s an idea! We’ll make it more accurate by increasing the number of boxes. What about 1 to 9 instead of E to A*?” Yeh, right …)

With the best of intentions we do this stuff in business too. Whether it’s MBTI, FIRO, DISC Personality Testing, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, INSIGHT or one of numerous others, we categorise people. I know, I know: it’s useful. With the best of intentions also we test for health and social care, “Can you fill a kettle?” “Can you pour boiling water into a cup?” “Can you safely climb stairs?” Now we know what help you need.

Now, apart from the fact that results are not quite as cast iron accurate as we’d like to think (a nonogenarian I knew with dementia had an amazing ability to perform like someone 20 years younger just and only on test days), my question is this. Maybe we begin to believe that knowing people and getting the best of people is that simple? – That once you know that (in a self-reporting questionnaire) they come out more as a thinking rather than a sensing person you have all the information you need to know them and what motivates them. I don’t think I’m that simple. Do you?

In addition, I suspect that the more we divide people into boxes, the more we focus on people either being in our box (one of us) or being different from us (alien, not one of us).

Arundhati Roy in her second novel published recently introduces us to a mishmash of different characters deliberately hard to define or categorise. Roy confesses that she just loves “all this kind of lovely muddle of stuff.” For all that, her purpose is highly serious. Describing the situation in India, she writes,

Caste is about dividing people up in ways that preclude every form of solidarity, because even in the lowest castes there are divisions and sub-castes, and everyone’s co-opted into the business of this hierarchical, silo-ised society. This is the politics of making a grid of class, of caste, of ethnicity, of religion. And then making the grid ever more fine is very much part of how you rule the world, saying, ‘You’re a Muslim, you’re a Hindu, you’re a Shia, you’re a Sunni, you’re a Barelvi, you’re a Brahmin, you’re a Saraswat Brahmin, you’re a Dalit, you’re gay, you’re straight, you’re trans –”

There are many, many boxes and, as she says, putting people in boxes doesn’t help world peace.

I’m attracted to people who don’t easily fit the boxes. Arundhati Roy herself was the daughter of an explosive relationship between a high status Syrian Christian mother and a low-status Bengali Hindu father. Yanis Varoufakis, Greek ex-Finance Minister whose excellent latest book I read last month, was son of an equally unlikely pair. His father, George, was a communist, imprisoned and tortured for his beliefs, and his mother was a member of a paramilitary right-wing group (“Stasi stuff”) tasked with ‘keeping an eye’ on George. Children outside the grid of boxes have to find their own way and grow up to think for themselves.

It’s easy to despise or hate people who are in a box you’re not in, once you’re able to label the box. As Mathilda’s father Mr. Wormwood (thanks Roald Dahl) shouted at his daughter, “Listen, you little wiseacre: I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” We could add: I’m Remain, you’re Brexit; I’m well-off, you’re on benefits; I’m English, you’re an immigrant; I’m fit and healthy, you’re disabled; I drive an eco-car, you drive a four-by-four; I’m Labour, you’re Conservative; I went to private school, you went to a local comprehensive. And vice versa, and on and on, even to the extent of, I love my kind, I hate your kind; I’m good, you’re evil: I deserve to live; you don’t deserve to live.

But even our current tyrants were babies once. Could we rein back on boxes? In times of crisis we manage it. Men in the trenches, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, were forced by the constant presence of death to remember that we are all human. Sometimes when children die, as in the Manchester bombing, we all suffer together in mutual recognition of childhood – through our own childhood or through having children of our own – and we come together through that common link.

I realise that each one of us is at the centre of our universe – every single person in the centre of their world, making their own sense of experience with the hand they’ve been dealt, not immune to vulnerability or heartache or moments of joy. It’s hard to realise though – to really get it. In those moments when we do get it – when we think of others as two-legged, human, complex, unique, strange, just like us, then, and only then, we have a chance of connection. And boy, do we need human connection on our planet right now.

Let me try that form again:

BIRTHPLACE: Earth

RACE: Human

POLITICS: Freedom

RELIGION: Love

That’s more like it.

September feels like a new start for many. Have a great month.

Go well,

Judy

 

What else?

As always – my books – translated into ten languages:

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

What holds you back? You might think that your own particular set of difficulties, setbacks and doubts don’t fit any coaching model. But you’d be surprised how a simple conversation with a coach will help you to get rid of obstacles and move forward to what you really want from life. Six months from now you’ll be saying, as other have, I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago! 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.

Newsletter Archive

Look here for older blogs – just scroll down. Or click on one of the descriptive tags to sort the archive.

David Thompson

David Thompson helps people communicate with clarity, creativity and confidence – much what I do really. He writes some good blogs on his website – have a look here. I once heard David recite some Shakespeare and was electrified.

A poem about connection

I like this poem by Hafiz on connection. Written over seven hundred years ago but the humour’s still current. What do you think of it?

With That Moon Language

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this: this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a moon in each eye,
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?

There are various other poems that are favourites of mine on my website. Have a look here.

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