Paying Attention

The cultural ecologist David Abram tells of meeting a man in the Pacific Northwest who could recognise the sounds of different trees. If you drove him, blindfolded, to any patch of coastal forest and sat him beneath any tree on a windy day – after a few moments he would tell you, by listening, whether the tree above him was a Douglas fir, a Sitka spruce or a western red cedar, or some different species. What attention …

The remarkable deaf professional percussionist Evelyn Glennie developed the ability to distinguish the smallest pitch difference in the sound of a drum through the vibration she felt coming up through the drumsticks into her hands and arms. Imagine that degree of sensitivity…

You’ll have your own examples of people using their senses exceptionally. To my mind they have something in common – they all share the ability to pay close attention without premature judgement – that is, they remain open to the experience for long enough to let insight steal up on them.

I’ve had a feast of the senses this month having seen the Matisse Cut Outs Exhibition at the Tate Modern twice. (If you haven’t seen it, go – it’s great!) Matisse started to work with paper shapes at the age of eighty when suffering from cancer and without the strength to use a paint brush. These late works are startling, original, energetic, and full of joy.

Matisse too remained open to his senses, and he had quite a bit to say on the subject of paying attention. Don’t think you know what a rose is, he says, just because you have seen roses before:

There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.

Look afresh and anew, he says.

I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.

And, he says, don’t imagine that being attentive is easy:

To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage.

“To look at something …” to really look … At one period of my life, I often accompanied tourists who were on the London leg of a European tour around the British Museum and National Gallery. I noticed how some tourists looked down at their guidebooks, and would tick off a famous painting by reading its label and then move on without more than a quick glance at the actual picture: “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers – tick, Rembrandt self portrait – tick, Constable’s Hay Wain – tick. That’s London ticked off; Paris tomorrow!”

I had a certain pleasure in my tour-guiding period in ridiculing the tourists’ behaviour, but I’ve realised since that most of us do something similar all the time, measuring what we experience with our senses against an internal tick-list of stored information, values and beliefs. For example, if you hold a belief that city kids mean trouble, you only have to witness a teenager laughing loudly on a train to tick that mental belief box, “Trouble!” If you believe your partner is irresponsible, you only have to see an unopened letter from the bank addressed to them to instantly suspect the worst and tick your belief box with the thought, “Irresponsible!”

There’s a world of difference between clocking something in this way and absorbing something through the senses. I can recognise the sound of a bird and clock “thrush” – that’s an act of recognition. If I hear the bird’s song and am truly open to it with all my senses involved – ah, that’s something else entirely, and allows something new to enter my consciousness.

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds. R. D. Laing

Paying real attention as we listen to someone requires us to absorb everything, take no short cuts, and refrain from certainty – even though our thinking brain is always looking for closure. This is partly for ourselves, so that we don’t jump to judgement, and it’s partly for the other person, as the quality and ease of our open listening helps them to think and communicate better.

It takes the whole of us to do that, not with any sense of effort, but in a gently absorbing way. Listening in this context consists of:

  • Hearing the nuances of voice tone beyond the actual sense of the words
  • Absorbing the nuances of facial expression, body language and breathing
  • Feeling the other person’s being empathetically – being touched by the other person
  • Allowing – letting things be as they are without seeking to interpret or change them.

I’ll tell you where I find this hardest – with people I know really well. Do you too? And that’s the very place, I realise, where seeing with fresh eyes is particularly productive. It’s one thing to notice something new in a child as he grows and develops. But adults don’t remain the same either – every single cell in our bodies is replaced every 7 years. A friend has just sent me a photo of me 40 years ago – I can follow the thread from that time to this, but I’m not the same person, and wouldn’t want to be treated as such.

So adults deserve our fresh attention too. I do think Matisse is right: to look at something as though we have never seen it before does indeed require courage. But the very act of doing so with people, allows the other person to change shape in our presence, to become more of who they can be. That’s the miracle of it.

The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.  Henry Miller

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Voice of Influence Workshop

– Coming up on 14-15 July in London, and again in October. You can book directly online here, or email me for invoiced company bookings or special cases.

This two-day course will give you the skills and confidence to speak with ease and connect with your audience – even if you are seriously daunted now. And it’s an enjoyable experience too – people often comment with surprise on the fun they have in the workshop. Two days from your life – think how many scenarios will be different in future when you feel at ease …

To those who sign up this month for the workshop I’m offering a free copy of my new book:-

The Art of Conversation

– It’s just out. It’s to be promoted from 15 May to 4 June at Smiths in airports and train stations – let me know if you spot it – I’d like a photo! The book takes you from first principles of starting a conversation cold to the subtle art of creating deep connection – it’s been recommended for people on the autistic spectrum as much as for those who want to connect with others on an intimate – even spiritual – level. Writing the book has been fascinating –  we engage with each other all the time, and these connections matter to us – but how we do that is under-examined.

If you enjoy the book, I (and especially my publishers!) would greatly appreciate a short recommendation on Amazon. The same goes for my other books if you’d like to recommend them – just a sentence or two to guide other potential readers would be great.

Find all my books here.

I’m spending a day this week with Nancy Klein – author of Time to Think and More Time to Think – she is a great advocate of paying attention to what people say. Wonderful writer, great books.

Speaking tips and inspiration

Useful daily speaking tips and inspiration on my Facebook page here.

Tweets too here.

For more help with voice and speaking download my E-courses on Overcoming Performance Anxiety, Speaking with More Authority and Raising Your Profile.

Coaching

One-to-one coaching offers you the opportunity to make significant changes in important parts of your life. It’s a practical and effective way to grow into the kind of person and the sort of roles you can maybe only imagine now. The one-to-one approach enables you to develop exactly the areas that will be most meaningful and impactful to you. It’s open to anyone – you don’t have to be already sorted to seek help from a coach!

I run my coaching business here in Dorking. I can also visit your business. Contact me for more information.

That’s it! Have a good month.

Go well.

 

 

Travelling to a different emotional space …

walkaloneA story of walking out

I was feeling unappreciated and misunderstood. “I’m going out!” I announced with an air of finality like a teenager, and I stomped out.

Down the road, cut down the alley, across the main road and down towards the farm on the other side, then up the track that crosses the railway; finally up the steep hill through woods on the other side. I was puffing slightly when I reached the path along the downs at the top. I struck out further north, beyond our normal walking tracks into less-known territory, seeking to get as far away as possible. Soon I was a few miles from home, walking briskly along a woodland path through beech and chestnut. The signs around me of the dying year suited my frame of mind.

It was a beautiful autumn day, and I strode out, enjoying the rhythm of my steps and the energy of the exercise. I walked for a good hour and didn’t see a soul: surprising  how much space there is in the countryside – even in the south east! In the solitude I glimpsed a young deer which emerged from the trees up ahead, crossed the path calmly and disappeared into deep undergrowth. I felt pleased that it hadn’t panicked: silence, space, me and a deer.

By the time I found myself walking towards home rather than away from it, two hours had passed and I was deeply absorbed with an idea in my mind for a new project. By the time I reached home I was all eagerness to write it down.

My earlier mood? I could remember the earlier spat, but was in an entirely different place mentally and quite happy about the way forward. Plus, there was that warm creative glow…

Sometimes, all that is needed is space to free up and think; and the mind frees up as the body frees up. Nancy Kline in her excellent book Time to Think suggests that we all function immeasurably better when we have time to think for ourselves. Independent thinking is a rare commodity in the workplace. You might say that you are thinking all the time, but being engaged on a problem and thinking for yourself are different. Thinking for yourself requires space and attention. You can give that attention to yourself or someone who knows how can hold that listening space for you. Time, space and attention are the sponsors of creativity.

At my courses, when I observe participants happily engaged in an exercise, I realise that an important element of this kind of training is the space it gives to minds freed up by enjoyment to think independently and creatively. The changes that are born in that thinking space are often transformational and extraordinary.

What better time for thinking and creating than these shortening days of late autumn as nature settles down for its quiet season? – Nature has its time off too to prepare for spring. Farmers wanting the best from the land leave fields fallow some years to restore nutrients. People need breaks to restore mental fertility and balance. I wonder what will come into fruition for you in this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”?

… and what space you will give it to allow it to emerge? 

NLP Conference – London, 12-14 November 2010

The NLP Conference has an especially impressive line-up of speakers and topics this year. It’s always a great opportunity to hear some of the best NLP trainers and developers in one place.

My own session – “Hypnotic Voices” – strays into the area of psychotherapy. Successful  hypnotherapists use the voice with particular skill and provide excellent models of vocal magic. But their techniques will also be of great interest to coaches, teachers, public speakers and all who use language to ‘take people to a different emotional space’.

I talk about techniques – but it’s more than that. The spoken voice has a considerable effect on other people, more than we are aware of consciously. To make vocal connections on a subtle deeper level requires physical, emotional and holistic alignment. This is what makes the learning so fascinating and the ability so fulfilling.

NLP Conference – London 2010

NLP Conference 2010

The NLP Conference looks exciting this year – an especially impressive line-up of speakers and topics. It’s always a great opportunity to hear some of the best NLP trainers and developers in one place.

My own session – “Hypnotic Voices” – looks to psychotherapy for new learning. Successful  hypnotherapists use the voice with particular skill and provide excellent models of vocal magic. But their techniques will also be of great interest to coaches, teachers, public speakers and all who use language to ‘take people to a different emotional space’.

I talk about techniques – but it’s much more than that. To make vocal connections on a deeper level requires physical, emotional and holistic alignment. This is what makes the learning so fascinating and  the ability so fulfilling.

The Hypnotic Voices session is on Saturday afternoon at 4.15. The Conference Brochure says:

Hypnotic Voices

The spoken voice has a considerable effect on other people, more than we are aware of consciously. If you are a hypnotist, therapist or coach you want to use the spoken word to influence your client yet maybe are not sure exactly how to do this with the voice you’ve been given. This session will introduce you to three key techniques for using your voice in trance work and generally for influencing people beneath their conscious awareness. The session is of special interest to those who work in the fields of hypnotherapy, coaching or clean language and is also suitable for everyone who wants to be able to exert more subtle influence with their voice.

To Book log onto:  www.nlpconference.co.uk

 Let me know if you are planning to be at the Conference and I’ll hope to meet you at my workshop.

 See you there!

  Judy

Life Force, Wimbledon & World Cup

Laura Robson

Laura Robson

Well it’s that year and that time: we are in the middle of the World Cup and Wimbledon has started.

I had the pleasure of watching the British 16 year old, Laura Robson, play her tennis singles match earlier this week. She lost the match but her playing was an inspiration. In someone so young it is particularly easy to perceive the difference between her playing a shot excellently as she has been coached to do and giving it the full 100% – as she did three times with match point against her. At that very fearful point of death (well – losing) she threw her absolute all into the moment with searing cross-court shots that astounded the crowd.

You would call playing a shot excellently 100% if you hadn’t the real 100% to compare it with. When you do compare, the difference is huge. In the first you witness excellent play, well-executed preparation, signs of forethought and good physical execution – you see someone doing the right thing. All fine. But in the second way you are in the presence of intense relaxed concentration, deep breathing and extraordinary power, focus and follow-through. The second example declares silently that there is no way this point is going to be lost – and we all feel it. It’s not doing the right thing; it’s going all the way for its own sake, for the joy of bringing 100% to it. It’s like saying, “All or nothing at this point? I choose All!”

What we feel as spectators is the excitement of witnessing someone intensely in the now, their physical well-being and enjoyment, their creativity and powerful intention. It energises us in the most exhilarating way. I call that difference life force.

Down in South Africa we see the same force in action with the football World Cup. We watch some matches where the England team play is of a high calibre; the footwork is mostly fast and skilled and the running and passing are carried out with panache yet you feel that the players are making the effort to get it right – getting it right as in not getting it wrong; there is fear there – of just that – getting it wrong, of failure, of censure, of letting people down, of looking bad. Today the English team won their game against Slovenia and the first comments of the delighted England Manager Fabio Capello were about freedom:” There was freedom. There was not fear … there was enjoyment …”

Freedom allows a performer the opportunity to seize the moment and give 100% for the passion and joy of the thing. You see that 100% in some of the South American players – that heart-lifting passion that has us spectators rising from our seats in excitement. I hear in my imagination a player with the ball saying: “Never mind what’s happened so far; never mind what happens later – it’s about this! See this! – mind and body working together with finely tuned attention! Isn’t that wonderful to share this moment?! – to trust this life force?!”

We have the opportunity to bring our life force to anything we do. And if we do it transforms it and everyone notices the difference. It thrives on technique but is much more than technique. It looks like concentration but is more than that too. It emerges where we trust ourselves to the present moment, where we forget ourselves and give our all spontaneously to the activity – whatever the outcome.

You will have examples of times when you are absorbed in the moment during some enjoyable activity. At such moments you are unaware of the passing of time as you live in the pleasurable concentrated moment of whatever it is you are doing. There is no unhelpful tension or stress in you and if asked about it afterwards you would say that you felt immensely alive.

Deepak Chopra has this to say on the subject:

“When your internal reference point is the ego, when you seek power and control over other people or seek approval from others, you spend energy in a wasteful way. When that energy is freed up, it can be rechanneled and used to create anything that you want.  When your internal reference point is your spirit, when you are immune to criticism and unfearful of any challenge, you can harness the power of love, and use energy creatively for the experience of affluence and evolution.”

Can you learn such things? I think you can learn anything. Your life force flourishes when you learn to trust yourself, so it means working on your beliefs. It requires you to be in the moment, so you learn how to focus and stay present. It requires you to be in your body as well as in your head, so you learn balance. It sometimes needs courage, so you learn to step into the unknown.

This kind of learning has the great bonus of applying to everything you set your mind to, be it leadership, presenting, communicating, creating a connection with others, working at any sort of project or creating change. That is why it is so worth learning – you light many candles with the one flame.

What has the NLP Diploma got to do with this? Well, that is a place where you can learn such things – in a down-to-earth way!

I like this question from the poet Mary Oliver I read recently:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I didn’t know for twenty years of my own wild and precious life but it’s certainly worth finding out – the sooner the better – and life force comes into it!

Leaders’ Debate

I’ve just been commenting on the voice and body language of our political leaders at an event for the First Pre-election Debate. Are you as amazed as I am at some of the presuppositions implied by the media in this period?

Good presentation in debate = a leader who will make good decisions (really?!)

Debating skill implies a leader who will make good things happen (how can we tell?!)

Scoring points in debate means a leader who will unite our people (there’s an interesting one!)

Of course we can learn much by observing and listening to people, but we also check our presuppositions as we go! No coach would let a client get away with such clumsy thinking!