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.

 

 

A cat tied to a pole

Cat tied to a poleHave you seen the film “Eat, Pray, Love”? In the original book Elizabeth Gilbert tells a cautionary tale heard during her time in an Indian ashram.

The story tells of a great saint who was always surrounded by his followers, with whom he would meditate for hours everyday.  The saint had a young cat who used to bother them all during meditation by walking through the temple meowing and purring. So the saint came up with the practical solution of tying the cat to a pole for the duration of the meditation so that people would not be disturbed. Every time they meditated they would first tie the cat to the pole, and this became a firm habit, and no one thought of beginning to meditate without first tying up the cat. It began to seem part of the ritual. So when the cat died, the saint’s followers were panic-stricken and a major religious crisis erupted: how could they possibly meditate now without a cat to tie to a pole? How would they reach God now?

How many daily rituals stem from forgotten and obsolete reasons? I have a sneaking feeling that probably an awful lot more than we realise …

 

I heard about someone who regularly used a delicious chicken recipe passed down in the family from her great-grandmother. One day she questioned her grandmother about it. “The chicken tastes so good,” she said. “The recipe says always to chop the chicken in two – is that the secret?” “Ah, no,” said the old woman; “my mother always did that because her cooking pot was too small to hold a whole chicken.” And everyone had just carried on doing it without question.

“Say please, say thank you,” I parroted to my children, or even, “What’s the magic word?” (pause while I cringe) as if that was the point. What I occasionally got instead was anger: “Thank YOU!! for giving back MY TOY!” when the original point behind the word was to feel and express gratitude. I saw a politician say “Sorreee!” in much the same way once … twice actually. It’s a bit like chopping the chicken in two; the word completely lost its original purpose.

Organisations spend considerable effort on “behavioural training,” such as the customer care instruction to say, “Have a nice day,” or “Enjoy your meal.” I would love to compile a video of the times those statements have been delivered with boredom or even resentment! But sound-bite ritual is satisfied: the cat has been tied to the pole.

I wonder how much of this behaviour without meaning stuff we could let go?

–        this week’s politically correct word for instance – I can’t keep up and surely it’s the attitude that counts?

–        parroting the ‘right’ words as if that’s alright then. Ditto when someone says the wrong thing and motivation isn’t taken into account – whatever the red-tops assert!

–        behaviour “management” – people can’t be “managed” into thoughtfulness or any real learning – they can only be motivated.

–        complex bureaucracy that has lost its original purpose

What would you let go of?

 

Monkey and banana experiment

Even our fear responses are behaviours with lost meaning if they belong to an outmoded story or someone else’s experience. Why take on inherited fears when we don’t even know what the cause was? Most of the “stuff” that sabotages us comes into this category.

Robert Dilts told me the story of the monkeys and the banana (taken from an experiment by G.R. Stephenson in 1967 I believe) which illustrates the point.

There are some monkeys in an experimental cage. The researcher hangs a banana on a string at the top of some stairs in the cage. Whenever a monkey climbs the stairs to get the banana he sets off a cold water hose which drenches all the monkeys in the cage. So, pretty soon, the monkeys prevent any single monkey from climbing the stairs and setting off the hose in an attempt to reach the banana.

The researcher turns off the water so that it is now safe to approach the banana. But the monkeys continue to stop each other from approaching the stairs.

One by one the monkeys are replaced by new monkeys. As each new monkey enters the cage it is attacked by the other monkeys when it attempts to climb the stairs, so it learns not to. Eventually, every monkey in the cage has been replaced, so no monkey now has ever experienced the soaking. But no monkey ever approaches the stairs again. That’s just the way things are. Another ‘religious’ ritual is born; another thought virus.

Achieving what we want is as much and more about letting go as about go-getting.

 

We’ve just had the latest two-day NLP training on Leadership and Influence. The distinction between behaviour and the values and beliefs that run that behaviour is a vital one. Yet the two are confounded constantly. I love the way NLP clarifies human action in so many ways and helps us get to the point. It stretches our ability to think and experience; participants love the challenge and grow in awareness and genuine confidence. It’s also wonderfully liberating to let go of stuff that gets in the way of success and happiness.

 “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu
 

 Coaching and Change – 14-15 April 2011

My next 2-day NLP Workshop is Coaching and Change on 14-15 April.  Coaching – conversational change – is one of the best developments of the last twenty or so years. It is awe inspiring to witness the life changes that people achieve through coaching. Come and enjoy two days of some of the best coaching-learning. More information at www.voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Voice of Influence – 31 March-1 April

And before that in the calendar, the next Voice of Influence Workshop is on 31 March – 1 April. This small-group-coaching course will take you from performance anxiety or a mild discomfort about presenting to inner confidence and assured delivery without notes – plus you’ll get excellent voice coaching. We already have a great group this month but there is still space for you, so look on the website for information. If you feel daunted, don’t let it put you off – you’ll find what you are looking for – and people who arrive scared always say they enjoy it.

If you are self-funding, work for a charity or are in genuinely difficult circumstances feel free to ask about special deals.

If you are looking at the website, take a glance at the testimonials. Most people come to these trainings through personal recommendation.

How to Raise Your Profile – NEW E-course on my website

to download at http://judyapps.co.uk/web/index.php/e-courses/how-to-raise-your-profile/.

Do you sometimes feel invisible and unappreciated? People don’t seem to listen to what you have to say? What seems to you the natural way to behave just doesn’t seem to be what is wanted around here? Or you’ve been told you need to raise your profile a bit more?… Whatever the reason, this e-course will show you that it is completely possible – for you – to be listened to, taken seriously, respected and remembered positively without changing the fundamentals of who you are.  Hope you enjoy  it!

Warm good wishes,

 Judy

Feeling the Fear

Feel the FearSummer ending. This morning I hear the rumble of passing cars as the school at the top of the road gets into action after the holiday. It’s a time of beginnings for all ages: starting school for the very first time, entering secondary school, getting ready for college or going back to work after the holiday break.

Rested, refreshed?

Rabbit in headlightsActually, for many of us what actually arises at this moment of new beginnings – even if we don’t tell a soul – is FEAR.

We don’t want it to be so but there it is, and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it. Are we alone in this? And what is this fear feeling? Are we saying to ourselves that we’re not going to cope? We’re not good enough? We’re found wanting? Are we thinking the world’s a dangerous place? We are not sure, the feeling is so nebulous.

What we do recognise is the effect: a blocked sensation, a stiffness taking over the posture, a shrinking within, a weakness, a hesitation to speak. It says “I can’t” as surely as Sir Winston Churchill’s “black dog” of depression.

Many people at work have such symptoms every day – especially currently when they feel especially vulnerable to reorganisation and cuts. The fear saps vitality, stifles creativity and makes the person feel small – like a rabbit caught in the headlights, frozen in a moment of impending doom! – even as they increase their efforts and double their stress.

The instinct is to force control on the situation – to spend extra time, prepare more carefully, look both ways before proceeding, micro-manage, make extra efforts to get things right, check and double check, to watch other people’s reactions, calculate risks …

 – and surely that’s good. Yes, it surely is …

And yet, and yet …

What if life is less like a crossing the road and more like white water rafting?

When I’m hurtling down the river rapids of life what is going to help then? Very different skills: steering rather than trying to put a brake on, looking the way I’m going rather than at my fellow passengers’ reactions, opening to currents of opportunity rather trying to get the paddling correct, freedom rather than rigidity, breathing rather than stiffening, exhilaration rather than holding.

It’s going with what is happening as it happens.

In terms of moving beyond fear, it means as a first step movement with and breath.

So, at this moment of new starts, it’s the perfect time to take a deep breath, and the time to get moving. A brisk walk gives us more energy than internal dialogue as we enter the workplace. The voice comes out stronger when we fill our lungs first. Singing a song at full volume in the shower gives us more courage than giving ourselves a critical lecture. A short amble up the hill produces more good ideas than two hours facing a screen.

So I breathe out the old air and take a good in-breath. I shake myself loose, start to move, and something shifts.

White Water RaftingSuddenly I’m enjoying the late summer sunshine, feeling optimistic, thrilling to the next challenge and all set to surf the rapids as well as move in quiet waters –  ready for the world again.

Happy river running to all of you!

– and many quiet waters!

Confidence Connections on the Website

 1.  “10 Secrets to Overcoming Performance Anxiety” Download free e-course.

2.   The “Voice of Influence” workshop has some powerful resources for going beyond fear – the next course is on 30 Sep – 1 Oct. As a previous participant said:  “It’s fabulous how these two days transformed my fear into real FUN! Can’t wait to do some more speaking.” Alex S  

3.  NLP Diploma: NLP is the great confidence builder – the Diploma offers six days of rich practical learning over a couple of months. People find it difficult to put NLP in a nutshell, but what you will certainly get out of the Diploma is the ability to be a more effective communicator and get on better with everyone, surer direction in your life, greater self awareness – including liking yourself better! – more influence and increased success at work and outside.  This makes it a great leadership course.

 

Carmen Herrera

Carmen1Carmen Herrera is a highly successful minimalist artist. Her radiant geometric paintings are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC and the Tate Modern in London as well as commanding high prices all over the world.

Originally from Cuba where she studied architecture, she moved after her marriage to New York where she took a course in art. Subsequently she and her husband spent some time in Paris and it was here that she discovered geometric art at an exhibition. She was immediately consumed with passion for this kind of painting and knew it was the path she wanted to take. It meant changing her whole way of thinking and learning how to paint again. Gradually she refined and distilled her art, paring things down to their essence; she began to find her unique voice.

Her big break came when a friend put her name forward as a replacement when one of the artists in a New York exhibition of female geometric painters suddenly had to drop out. A collector bought five of her paintings and word quickly spread to other collectors. Before long her work was being snapped up all over the globe.

It’s the kind of rags to riches story you are probably familiar with …

… until we fill in some of the dates.

Carmen Herrera was born in 1915. She started to paint seriously in her late twenties. Her lucky break came just five years ago at the age of 89.

89! So what happened in the intervening 60 – 60! – years?

– Looked at from the outside, not much. She didn’t sell a single painting. Most days her husband would go off to work in the morning and she would get the housework out of the way and then paint; for hours and hours. Every now and then they would move to cheaper neighbourhoods so that she could continue to paint. Year after year she struggled with her art and her own limitations and found the way to move her passion forward.

Now Carmen Herrera is not your typical leader – a solitary woman artist, an immigrant, someone born before her time – but there is much about her that teaches me about the art of leadership:

–        she focused on what mattered

–        she started again when she needed to

–        she showed considerable personal strength

–        she displayed strong self belief

–        she worked extremely hard

–        she found her own voice and was finally heard by the world

–        and she is a magnificent example of the sheer indomitability of the human spirit!

We often think it’s all ‘out there’ – the challenges, difficulties, blocks, stuff to get done. But time after time history shows us that the real struggle is internal. The leader finds their true voice deep inside and is thus able to walk their talk on the outside.

Can you learn leadership and self-leadership? Certainly, though it will be different for everyone. It’s important to build your own awareness and find the space to look at your own practice. It doesn’t always take 94 years!

Horse Riding

Horse ridingMy sister and I were very keen on horses when we were younger. We even started to save our pocket money towards buying a horse – the fact that it would have taken us till we were 70 to save enough somehow didn’t deter us. I loved the whole idea of riding and was fervently longing to try it properly.

One day while on holiday with our parents we passed a riding stables and I could see the heads of horses looking out from their stalls. I so much wanted to have a ride – I don’t think I’d ever longed for anything more. My parents said that if I went into the yard and found out how much it cost I could have a ride.

But I couldn’t. I was too shy.

I just couldn’t will myself to walk into that stable yard, find someone and ask the question. It was just asking! I stood there for ages struggling with myself. How on earth was it not possible? But I couldn’t. And I didn’t get my ride.

This is just a little anecdote about a child and a horse, but have you ever had that feeling or voice inside that says, “I just can’t?”

By the time we are adult most of us have quite a few areas that we have shut off as being not possible or ‘not me’. We have different gremlins but their power is always destructive and their hidden existence continues to sabotage our success in all sorts of subtle ways.

What I began to learn is that this state of affairs can change. And when it does all sorts of possibilities come into focus that just weren’t there before, and with them appear the ability and courage actually to go for what we want.

But that’s for another story! …