The Resplendent Quetzal

“The Resplendent Quetzal” … sounds like the title of a cautionary tale like “The Pobble Who Has No Toes” … But this is about national symbols. They tell you something, don’t they?

Britain has the lion – powerful king of the jungle; England also favours the bulldog – determined and unbudgeable; the United States has the mighty eagle – lord of all it surveys; the French rooster rules the roost; and many other countries signify their strength through animals such as the lion, the eagle and other predators.

The national symbol of the Indian people in Guatemala is a bird, the quetzal. It’s extraordinarily beautiful with iridescent green-gold and blue-violet feathers, and a long long tail. To see the resplendent quetzal in flight with its tail undulating behind is to understand how the bird signifies freedom to the people of Guatemala. In fact, if you try to keep a quetzal in a cage, it dies. It cannot survive in captivity. It has to be free. What a symbol.

Glorious freedom… We’ve just returned from a break in the northern Pennines, where I appreciated the freedom of space and quiet, the lonely fells and flower meadows – places where oyster catchers nest in peace and wild orchids proliferate undisturbed; and where we were free to drive without traffic jams, to walk across fields of sheep from stile to stile without hindrance and discover spectacular waterfalls without entry restrictions or queues.

Well, of course, it wasn’t the crowded south east of England. But it got me thinking about freedom, how we care or don’t care about it, and whether or not we’re losing it. I used to think of freedom – as on my holiday – in terms of escape, running away almost – days off work, riding up into the hills. But now, I often think about that essential freedom to be yourself – to be true to your own spirit – the kind of freedom that allows you to be free inside whatever circumstances you find yourself in.

That kind of freedom seems almost the opposite of escape. And takes courage – sometimes huge courage for the stakes can be high.

Well, courage can be symbolised by the fierce animals like the brave lion, but I like the image of the quetzal, insisting on living in freedom, and symbolising freedom for all.

The quetzal is in danger of extinction. Maybe human beings are also in danger of losing that freedom to be who we truly are – the global pressures to fit the mould and toe the line are beyond question powerful. But if we lose that freedom to be ourselves, we lose our spontaneous energy, joy and flexibility and over the years become rigid caricatures of who we pretend to be. No wonder old politicians so often end up looking like cartoons of themselves!

What to do in those moments when you fear to be yourself? My simplest and best strategy so far is to remember to breathe. Instead of using your legs to run away – which they’d probably like to do! – rather, take a long slow breath in through your nose and breathe the airl out again, to let frozen tension fall away and allow your deeper wisdom to flow.

Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they learn it? They fall and falling, they’re given wings. Rumi

In letting fear fall away and being able to act and and say our truth, we’re truly free.

NEWS

VOICE OF INFLUENCE Workshop – 14-15 July – act now!

This month I still have space on the workshop on 14-15 July, so email me as soon as possible if you’re interested. The course has much in common with the subject of this newsletter. When you find your freedom to be authentic and speak with your own voice, you liberate the best of you, and become an engaging, even powerful, public speaker. I’ve watched it happen again and again in the two days of this workshop – some amazing transformations. Don’t worry if you feel daunted or scared now – that’s an okay place to start. I offer discounts at times to those who would struggle to pay the full fee.

BYRON KATIE: Who Would You Be Without Your Story?

Byron Katie’s personal change work has the appearance of utmost simplicity, but it can work brilliantly. She’s running a workshop on July 5 in London. Apply here.

Her workshop is one of many talks and workshops run by Alternatives in central London. Have you discovered them? They get some fabulous speakers, and charge very reasonable entrance fees for their talks.

Connect via Facebook and Twitter

I post voice and speaking ideas and tips – and generally good stuff! – most days.

My books – available in print and e-versions

The Art of Conversation      Whether you’re shy and don’t know what to say or feel you blabber on – or want to make deeper more meaningful connections with people, you’ll find lots of helpful material. It’s an easy read too. The book is going to be produced also in audio form through Audible.com, Amazon and iTunes – I’ll let you know when that format is available.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms       If you want to overcome performance nerves, this reader-friendly book offers 25 different strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence – and they work!

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies offers a comprehensive guide to voice and speaking – you can dip in anywhere and discover practical tips for developing a more robust and interesting voice.

Voice of Influence       Gets to the heart of voice – how to connect with other people and how to influence others through your voice. Lots of personal experiences and practical advice to make it a good read.

A poem

Some of the poets of 500 years ago really got the message. Here is Tukaram about speaking your truth:

I could not lie anymore so I started calling my dog “God.”
First he looked confused,
then he started smiling,
then he even danced.

I kept at it:
now he doesn’t even bite.

I am wondering if this might work
on people?

Have a wonderful July.

Go well,

Judy

 

 

 

 

 

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

<^> <^> <^> <^> <^> <^>

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.

 

 

Gotta keep up! – Who Says?

Peter just hasn’t caught up with the 21st century. He’s never sent an email in his life. He’s never browsed the internet. He doesn’t possess a mobile phone and has never used one. He doesn’t even have a television.

Peter who?

– Peter Higgs, the extraordinary scientist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics at the end of last year, following the discovery of his predicted Higgs boson using the Large Hadron Collider at Cern.

Just 50 years ago, Higgs returned to Edinburgh University from a camping trip in the Highlands with some new ideas, and wrote a short paper that was published in a European physics journal, Physics Letters. A second paper he wrote that same year predicting a new massive spin-zero boson was rejected by the journal as “of no obvious relevance to physics.” Higgs added a paragraph and sent the same paper to another leading physics journal which published it. This was the basic prediction for what followed.

The particle to match these theories was finally discovered 49 years later in 2012. In those 49 years, Higgs published fewer than 10 academic papers. Every year the university would ask its academics for a list of recent publications, and every year Higgs wrote “zero”. “I’d have been sacked into today’s academic system, I wouldn’t be productive enough,” he asserts.

Yet his discovery of the Higgs boson marks a massively important break through, its full implications yet to become clear. Quantum mechanics – the last great break through – led to the invention of the transistor – key ingredient for all modern electronics, the laser and other medical technologies – MRIs, PET scans etc. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at Cern, another major transformation of our lives. Who knows where this latest discovery will lead us? – For sure it’ll be huge.

January is often a time when I resolve to be more up with the times. Perhaps you write similar hopes yourself? “Keep up to date with my FaceBook page. Twitter more regularly. Get more savvy about social media. Read the latest publications. Get into shape. Throw out my old wardrobe …”

In the middle of all this insistent self-bluster, Peter Higgs is a comforting figure. He’s 84, and will leave behind an outstanding legacy. But he certainly didn’t “keep up” – ever. His whole life he followed his own beliefs and did his own thing, often to the detriment of his position in academic life. He hasn’t been blown around by opinion or fashion or fame. He’s far from arrogant and doubts that he deserves the Nobel Prize: “I’m getting the prize for something which took me two or three weeks in 1964,” he commented.

Do you ever have an irrational fear of somehow not keeping up and getting left behind? But I ask myself: Will the world really come to a standstill because I didn’t check my mobile before I went to sleep? Will I really stagnate in obscurity if I don’t post continually on social websites or mix with the ‘right’ people? It’s a media-fuelled fantasy. I’ve a feeling that an awful lot of energy is dissipated in such activities, and this new year I have various good ideas about how I’d like better to use that energy.

I do usually recognize the difference in myself between the urgency of that inner push to get more busy with business and outcomes, and the energy behind a little inner voice that nudges me that a certain move is going to be exciting and worthwhile. The little voice is extremely energizing and always leads to something good if I listen to it; the urgent nagging to greater productivity fragments and exhausts me.

So, Peter Higgs, you’re my mentor – you’ve followed your inner voice in science and in life. I like the idea of a mentor who didn’t even know he’d won the Nobel prize till a woman stopped her car in an Edinburgh street and congratulated him on the news. “What news?” he asked her, looking blank.

Higgs, you’re my kind of human being!

 

MY LATEST BOOK

My new book, The Art of Conversation, comes out in April. You can pre-order it on Amazon here. It’s been a fascinating book to write – conversation is the basis of so much in our lives! I hope you’ll enjoy it. (Cool hard-back cover!)

 

VOICE OF INFLUENCE WORKSHOP

If you want to communicate more confidently, be listened to, speak with more impact, connect better with people and build your confidence generally, this is definitely the course for you. Have a look at the testimonials from former participants here. They are absolutely typical of the feedback the course receives.

The next workshop is on 27-28 February. Get in touch with me (or book online) very soon if you want to attend on those dates as I’ve had quite a lot of enquiries.

NEW YEAR, NEW YOU

– and an event to recommend this week:

Thu 23 Jan, 7–8.45 pm, Global Cooperation House, London NW10 2HH. Meet two engaging and high profile women, Fiona Harrold, world-renowned coach and best-selling author, and Sister Jayanti, European Director of the Brahma Kumaris, international speaker and broadcaster. They will explore together how to energise and shift our way of thinking and being to be our best and create a better future. A free event, but you need to register herewww.bkwsu.org/uk/whatson/whatson

E-COURSES

Just a reminder that you can download my free e-courses on Dealing with Performance Anxiety; Raising your Profile; Speaking with More Authority, and an Introduction to NLP from my website – here.

Hope to meet some more of you this year!

Go well in 2014,

Judy

Festivals and Flying-Foxes

Sydney FestivalA few days ago I was reclining on the grass enjoying a picnic (along with 200,000 others) as enormous flying fox bats wheeled overhead and the sun went down on a summer day in Sydney. It was the first day of the Sydney Festival. As tickets sell out so fast for the festival, the city now puts on a special first day for free, so that the whole city – families, young and old – can enjoy international singers and bands at half a dozen open-air venues, with free bottles of water and buses running late to take people home.

Now I’m home to January frosts, and experiencing those moments every traveller recognises on return home, when things seem less obvious than before. Do I still drink tea in the morning? Do I still prefer the Guardian or was it the Telegraph? The daily gloom and doom seems less necessary. The countless routines of life no longer take place quite as unthinkingly as before.

Then gradually, daily life enfolds you again, and that foggy moment passes. You’re back with the familiar frames and filters … back in the matrix … But you’ve glimpsed something else – that brief moment when things are no longer obvious is the great gift of time away.

On my travels I’ve been reading ‘The Master and the Emissary’ by Iain Gilchrist (a fascinating book if you can cope with print the size of washing instructions on a shirt label). It explores the latest neuro-research into the left and right hemispheres of the brain. In a more complex way than previously thought, the left brain likes precision and categorisation with language to express it. The right brain holds the subtler bigger picture which is less easily pinned down by rules and language, and this hemisphere plays a far more major role than previously thought.

It’s the right hemisphere that enjoys moments when nothing is obvious; for these are moments out of which different kinds of insight can emerge. Think of historic instances of creative genius – the idea that just popped in as the bath overflowed or the apple fell on your head or you dreamed of riding sunbeams …

We can step out of our frame in various ways; one is to fly to the moon in your mind and look at your life from a distance; feeling your relative size when you are in mountains works in a similar way. Another (and a good antidote this to left brain New Year Resolutions that have you slogging to maintain some new routine …) is to do anything different from the norm just for the sake of it – take a different route home, eat a different food, read a different sort of book or paper, vary the order of your daily tasks … Every time we do things differently it gives us new insights – and brings pleasure at the same time.

I wonder what you might do differently – just for fun, just for the wonder of the thing? Gerald Manley Hopkins in the Windhover … (incidentally, did you know that the right hemisphere, though not till now associated with language, lights up for poetry?) … suggests that wonder is found in the plainest things, provided we lose our sense of knowing the obvious. The whole poem expresses it, but here are the last lines:

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

NLP Diploma

You’ll explore filters, frames and different perspectives in this course – and much more besides. This training is such a life changer – I’m constantly delighted with what people go on to achieve in living the lives they want (and only dreamed of before). First module, Communication and Relationships,  is on 1-2 March, 2nd module, Leadership and Influence, is on 29-30 March, and the final module, Coaching and Change, is on 26-27 April.

Voice of Influence Workshop

This popular course on speaking, presenting, and self confidence gives you the opportunity to learn and practise in a small group. Don’t remain unsure of yourself; becoming confident doesn’t mean changing who you are, it just requires you to learn new skills and approaches. It’s also absorbing and fun – as previous participants will tell you; all that is required is for you to register and turn up! Next workshop 9-10 February. The one after: 17-18 May.

All details on the website, www.voiceofinfluence.co.uk – also ask me about special offers if you do not have company funding.

New Books

I have two new books coming out this year. The first is Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence published by Crown House. Out in February – available to pre-order on Amazon.

The second is due out in April – more information very soon!

And if you want the low-down on voice, you can find my book, Voice of Influence on Amazon too. It’s also out in Kindle. Or I can send you a signed copy.

Hope to meet you this year – at one of my courses, or at some other event. Come and say hello!

Warm good wishes,

Judy

The old words are best …

‘I train and coach people in leadership …’  Cupcake
(just practising a spiel for the next
networking event …)

We all specialise in leadership these days – us corporate coaches and trainers. Management has slipped down the list, but leadership has more models of excellence than cup cakes have decorative designs (not that they aren’t slipping down the list too …).

Ever on the case, I asked a young friend who especially admired his boss, ‘What’s so good about his leadership?’

‘He’s kind.’

Kind?! What sort of a word is that? I glossed over it.

‘Yes right, but what about his vision, his ability to be ahead of the curve, his authority, strength of purpose, decision making …?’

‘Yes, I s’pose …’ said the young person indifferently, ‘But some of the others have that too. He’s different because … well, he’s kind.

I asked him to tell me more, and he explained that okay this leader saw the big picture, knew where he was taking the company, was indeed tough at times and had made hard decisions, but he didn’t do it from a distance.

He tried to make it clearer. ‘You know how warfare works now?’ he said. ‘The attacker, way up in a fighter plane, sees the target in the cross-hairs of his sight and presses a button. Then far away some buildings fall and people die. Well, he’s the opposite of that; he gets up close and messy, and we all believe that he cares. He knows exactly how people feel because he talks to us, so although he’s tough sometimes I think that it hurts him when he makes a decision that’s painful for people.’

After we’d spoken, I reflected on his word, ‘kind’ and decided I liked its humanity. We are after all ‘humankind’ and ‘kind’ has its origins in ‘kin’ – family. Maybe if leaders got up close enough to be able to see their people breathing – see all their stakeholders breathing … After all, if results aren’t ultimately about people on the planet, what are they about?

I took a break from writing on Thursday and walked in a country park. Climbing up the hill to the summit I thought, ah yes, big picture – I don’t forget I’m climbing up to the top of the hill, but I also notice, look, a miraculous wild orchid – flowering impossibly in autumn just on my path – and I watch where I put my feet.

Maybe it’s time us English speakers took a fresh look at the words we use? I’m getting fond of our oldest words, those short ones like the one my young friend chose. Forget the lengthy words that belong to cross-hair vision – strategy, implementation, quantitative easing (‘shurely that used to be called something else?’ Ed.) or my favourite from an unfortunate political friendship this week, ‘income that is not dependent on any transactional behaviour’; I’m now raising a cheer for our ancient monosyllables like truth, like, fair, guts, peace and yes, kind.

What’s on the next few weeks

Voice of Influence Workshop

Learn how to speak with confidence and presence in any situation – 1-2 December.

The group is always small – 1 place left. More courses in 2012. The last workshop at the beginning of this month attracted this written feedback from the participants:

* Memorable experience! Enjoyable experience…
*Everything helped me (and others I am sure) to feel more confident and leave feeling we had gained something important. A great course! …
*I feel I have acquired a lot of tools to improve my public speaking and in addition am a lot more confident in myself…
*How happy your clients appear when they leave at the end of a course. They are invariably smiling …
*Every exercise had a purpose … It was useful for each to have their own feedback during tasks from the trainer. The course was set and planned in a way which made me very comfortable and interested in taking in more during each day.
*I am pleased to develop a more ‘can do’ attitude and not be afraid to get things wrong…
*Challenging but beneficial and rewarding… would recommend it highly. Was very nervous initially, but by the end felt more empowered. …
*I am very pleased about my growth in confidence… A refreshing break from the presentation skills course I have come to expect! … Great experience!

Coaching the Human Spirit

Brahma Kumaris, Spirit of Coaching residential weekend for coaches – Fri-Sun, 28-30 October near Oxford

This was a beautiful and inspiring event last year. It’s waiting list only for this year, but book early for next! www.globalretreatcentre.org

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms:

– 25 sure-fire ways to speak and present with confidence

My latest book, illustrated by Rosie Apps, comes out in January, a month later than I said in my last newsletter, but worth waiting for. You can still pre-book it for a Christmas present! It’s direct and practical – based on the best of what people discover in my courses and coaching – invaluable to keep beside you if you have to speak in public. Available to order on Amazon.

NLP Conference

I’m speaking at the Education Conference and the Main Conference on 18-20 November. This is a great event to find out more about NLP and hear an interesting variety of speakers from over the world. Hope to see you there! More details at www.nlpconference.co.uk.

Go well!

Pathways

Path through summer woods with personI took a familiar walk through the Surrey woods near my dad’s house the other day, but the usual path had disappeared.  You’d think those ancient woods would remain unchanged through the years. But they don’t. Each season when the bracken pushes through the pathways shift and alter, and change the route from road to lake and lake to hill top.

It set me thinking to how we tend to assume that we too are unchanging – same old nose (not quite the right shape), same old legs, same old thoughts, same old me …

Same old blood pressure written in stone by the reading  in the surgery … though I know someone whose blood pressure hits the roof the moment they meet the doctor and is different as soon as they reach home!

Same old eyes, as the optician recommends set lenses … though I know that they improve with muscle exercises and are in any case more effective when I’m not tired.

Same old genes … as assumed by genetic research which tells me that this and that is to be expected because my genes say so. I almost bought that one till I heard about genes that switch on and off!

Same old brain; just so many cells – even if they gradually die off as you get older (abandon hope all who enter here).

Ah, but now we are learning that the brain is more plastic than previously thought. Cortical remapping occurs in response to injury. People with  strokes, cerebral palsy, and mental illness can train other areas of their brains through repetitive mental and physical activities. Life experience changes both the physical structure and functional organisation of the brain. Musicians develop stronger neural pathways that support musicality and dexterity. The brain waves of professional jazz players become more synchronised as they jam together. World-class athletes develop stronger alpha waves to cope with the ever-changing mix of intricate challenges they face. There is no doubt now –

thinking changes the brain.

If we keep thinking similar thoughts we are carving out neural pathways that make it increasingly easy to pursue those same thoughts next time… and next time … So constant negativity carves out a negative pathway. And self-believing thoughts carve a positive can-do pathway.

(Incidentally, what are you thinking NOW…?)

I’ve just finishing reading Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by the international table tennis champion, Matthew Syed. He tells how just one street, Silverdale Road in Reading where he lived, produced at least 10 international and national table tennis champions in the 1980s, more than the rest of the UK put together. How on earth did that come about?

Syed explains that the enthusiastic local primary school teacher was a top national table tennis coach and a senior figure in the English Table Tennis Association, and any local kids who showed potential were persuaded to take their skills forward at the local club, Omega – open 24 hours a day – where they were given plenty of time, excellent coaching and  self belief.  A combination of opportunity, enjoyment, purposeful teaching with productive feedback and many hours of practice produced champions from a relatively small pool of young people.

This all points to the conclusion that nothing is just made that way, nothing is fixed, nothing is ordained. On the contrary, everything is plastic, everything is changeable, anything is possible. As in Silverdale Road, even neural pathways can be changed and new ones developed – if we do the work of activity and repetition to make it happen.

So when that moment comes – perhaps after you have been to the gym a few times, or eaten healthily for a week or so, or meditated or done early morning yoga for a few sessions, or walked to the station instead of taking the car once or twice, or sent out a dozen CVs with no reply, or phoned a few potential clients with little response – when that moment comes – when something inside you says,

“There’s no point in this, I’m not the sort of person who succeeds at this stuff”,

then you can know that yes, you are that sort of person – you are currently and always in the making – and that every bit of purposeful practice is taking you in the direction you want to go and will take you to where you want to be if you continue.

And, after all, life is not fixed like a noun. It’s not “arrival”, “success” or “achievement”. It’s always a verb – doing, moving, achieving, succeeding, becoming, being…

… and the neural pathways growing, shifting, changing, and finding new ways to the top of the hill! (your particular hill …)

Happy walks in the woods!

“… felt compelled to stop”

The location: Joshua Bell
Washington DC – a metro station

The spot:
the top of the escalator

The time:
7:51 am, Friday morning rush hour

The situation:
A man puts down his cap for money, gets out his violin and starts to play. He performs classical pieces for the next 43 minutes.

In that time, 1,097 people pass by, mostly on their way to work. Just about everyone walks straight past ignoring him. Of the people queuing at the lottery stand across the arcade not one person looks over at him.

The 64th passer-by is the first to turn his head towards the music, just for a second. After 4 minutes someone throws some money in the hat. After 6 minutes someone stops for a couple of minutes to listen, then walks on. After 10 minutes a 3-year old boy stops, but his mother pulls him along while he keeps turning around to look. In fact, every single time a child walks past it tries to stop and watch; and every single time, a parent scoots the kid away.

In 43 minutes, of the 1,097 passers-by in all 6 people stop to listen for a while. The man playing the violin collects $32.17 from his hat at the end.

How do we know this?

Because the event was being monitored by the Washington Post. A famous violinist had agreed with the newspaper to play in the underground as an experiment – would people respond in that setting, or not?

The violinist was Joshua Bell.

He is one of the finest classical musicians in the world. He’s in the news this week having just taken over as music director of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields orchestra in London. On the occasion in the metro he was playing some of the greatest music ever written on a Stradivarius violin worth over 3 million dollars. He had played in Boston’s stately Symphony Hall three days previously to a packed house with people paying $100 plus per seat. Hundreds had crowded round the stage door afterwards for a glimpse of him. The newspaper in setting up this experiment was prepared for crowd problems, people flocking to the scene, traffic backing up …

The actual results shocked them.

To get feedback they took some people’s telephone numbers during the experiment telling them they were going to call later about the subject of commuting. They then followed up on 40 people the same evening. Most people hadn’t even noticed a violinist on their way to work. Only one person mentioned the violinist spontaneously: “It was a treat, just a brilliant, incredible way to start the day.” he said. One other had recognised him “It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” she says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking.” Bell himself, watching a video of the event later found himself mystified less by people being in a hurry than by the fact that most people paid no attention at all as if he were invisible. “After all, I was making a lot of noise!” he said. Interestingly the children noticed – they were all affected by Bell’s violin playing.

One person who didn’t miss the treat was project manager at the Department of Energy, John Mortensen. He heard the music as he headed up the escalator on his way to work. He didn’t have more than a couple of minutes to spare. On the video you see him get off the escalator and look around. He sees the violinist, stops, walks away but then is drawn back. He checks the time on his mobile then settles against a wall to listen for a few minutes. He knows nothing at all about classical music but for the first time in his life he stops to listen to a street musician and gives him money. Asked about it afterwards he said he felt compelled to stop because the music made him feel at peace.

The thought springs to mind – if we miss one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written on one of the most beautiful instruments ever made … then what else might we be missing?

When in my teens I read W H Davies’ poem about having time to stand and stare, I used to think that noticing things was a matter of having enough time or indeed nothing better to do – okay if you’re a wanderer like Davies, you have all the time in the world, but not if you have a busy job.

I don’t think that any more.

I now think it’s not a time issue; it’s about being open to it – which means not just seeing and hearing but feeling too…

  • Like really hearing a blackbird one morning just for a few moments, the same blackbird you’ve heard countless times before, and thinking, wow, that’s truly amazing;
  • Like stopping for ten seconds to realise you are happy at a moment when you are happy
  • Like being with someone and suddenly feeling how great it is to have this person in your life just this moment now.
  • Like feeling the warmth of realising that this decision is the thing to do.

Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.
Albert Einstein

The trouble with busy-ness is not so much that it takes up time; it’s more that it hides something from us. In busy mode I feel so pleased with myself that I can do two things at once – use the internet while I’m travelling by train, text as I walk from the station or speak to someone on my mobile while I’m clearing kitchen surfaces, putting clothes away or even … don’t go there. But in busy mode I’m just that. Busy.

Maybe we don’t need more time; but just need a different way of looking – a way that opens us to the miraculous – and better judgement too.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”  William Blake

When I’m training, a great excitement is being there when a participant has an “ah-ha” moment. Suddenly they notice something that has always been there but not been seen before, and everything shifts. Coaching too is often about noticing things you haven’t noticed before. If someone can help you learn how to do that, go for it. It’ll transform your life and work and take you to some miraculous places.

The W. H. Davies poem? Here it is.

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare

NLP Practitioner, NLP Diploma

I’ve just finished my new book on overcoming performance anxiety. Look out for it in the autumn. And that’s when my workshops start again. You have the opportunity this autumn to do the NLP Diploma and then continue to the full NLP Practitioner finishing in January.

Have a look at the website for dates and read the testimonials … people get a lot out of the short modules – if your experience so far is company training courses, think again – these workshop days are enlightening, confidence building, full of useful tools and good fun. People often say that life and work seem easier afterwards.

SPECIAL VOUCHER CODE for NLP Diploma- £850!
Book each of the 3 modules individually but at the same time. In the Voucher box, insert VOI SPECIAL. That will bring the price of all 3 workshops booked together to £850.

Voice of Influence Workshop

My Voice of Influence Workshops start again at the end of September. Learn how to connect confidently with an audience – and much more.

Sign up for these workshops now.

Special Free Event:
Finding Your Voice – The Power of Authenticity

19 June in London with Judy Apps, 2.00 – 5.30. Details here.

Also at www.voiceofinfluence.co.uk – some great articles and free e-courses on NLP, Overcoming Performance Anxiety, Speaking with Authority, Raising Your Profile and more, newsletter archive, my book Voice of Influence and information on coaching by Skype, telephone or face-to-face.

Do get in touch if you have any comments or questions or want to know more.

June already – height of summer!

If you have just one moment today, what will you notice I wonder? …

Go well,

Playing with words

Language shapes our thinking – can you only think what you have words for?

 SnowmanWhat times we live in! I am struck by the contrasting ways in which human behaviour is described. That useful magazine “The Week” publishes extracts from newspapers of every complexion, and repeatedly you can find a single topic described in wildly different ways. “Hurray for openness!” says one commentator; “Terrible leaks!” wails another. “Personal responsibility”, states one; “savage cuts” complains another. “Freedom of self-determination” shouts one; “Terrorism!” proclaims another.

Abstract nouns! NLP has quite a bit to say about these. It calls them ‘nominalisations’ and nominalisations are famously slippery, elusive and vague.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things
.”�
                                                                                                     Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass.

Well, you certainly can if you use abstractions!

“Love” is a particularly vague abstract noun as it makes do for such a cornucopia of different emotions: parental love, sexual love, love of chocolate brownies, love of taking long lunch-breaks in the pub … Two thousand years ago the Greeks gave us a wise lead by employing four different words for love –  agape–affection, eros-desire , philia-friendship  and storge–family love. But the English language did not go the way of the Greeks …

Nor of the Eskimos: the author Edward De Bono describes the rich vocabulary of love among the Inuit people who use subtle distinctions to manage relationships in the confinement of their long snowy winters. He refers to one of their words for love that translates as “I like you very much, but I would not go seal-hunting with you”. Now that might serve as a useful comeback at a party this Christmas!

One suggestion NLP makes to help unravel the meaning of abstract nouns is to turn them into verbs or “action words”. Our “love” then becomes the process of how we love each other, and our “relationship” becomes the process of how we relate to each other. It’s often easier to understand the meaning of a situation when an abstraction is turned into a process.

The linguist Benjamin Whorf argued that the fact that the Eskimos have 200 words for snow indicates that they have a much richer thinking on the subject.  So what about our more limited language for the idea of love – or indeed, given the season, love, joy and peace? Are we impoverished by having “one size fits all” for such concepts?

When we turn these abstract nouns of love, joy and peace into processes (noun into verb) we can see more clearly their limitations. It involves a bit more grammar but for a purpose!

Verbs are either transitive (which means they have an object; for example “I hit you”); or they can be intransitive (which means there is no object – for example “I sleep”; “I sleep you doesn’t make sense). An intransitive verb describes a state of being rather than something that is done to someone else.

So love, joy and peace

If we play a little with these words as processes, love is already a transitive verb:  “I love you. I love my fellow man.” But there is no intransitive equivalent to describe loving as a state of being – “I am loving” gets quite close to it, but a verb meaning “I am love-ful” would really good to add to our vocabulary.

What do you do, where do you go, what do you remember in order to enter the state of feeling “love-ful”?

For joy, we can “enjoy”, but it would be useful to have the more generative verb meaning “I am joy-ful”. And it would also be good to have a transitive verb “to joy” to express the concept of spreading or extending joy to someone.

I can “hurt you”. What would it mean for me to “joy” you?

With regard to peace, we can express a state of being in the three words “I am peace-ful”. But what about a transitive verb “to peace someone”, meaning to spread or extend peace? As of now I can “fight” “attack” “assault” “combat” or “assail” you, but I have no verb to affect you with “peace”. The media use battle words constantly: to fight terror, fear, poverty, injustice, extradition, apathy, disease …

(Who said “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist persists”? Ah, that was Eckhart Tolle.)

If we use war-like words we are liable to see life as a battle.

What would it be like to have an active sense of “peacing” the people you spend time with?

If we are missing the language does it matter?

Does it matter that we don’t have words for things we might want to say? Yes, I believe it does, because language shapes the way we think just as much as the way we think shapes language.* If we haven’t got the words for it we are unable to think it.

So what about going about your business in the next couple of weeks and having fun with made-up words: use love in the intransitive – to love, be love-ful, and joy and peace in the transitive – to joy and peace each other.

Love-ful, I joy and peace you all!

* (If you are interested in the concept of language shaping our thought have a look at Lera Boroditsky’s article, “How does our language shape the way we think?” at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/boroditsky09/boroditsky09_index.html)

E-zine Articles – a wealth of interesting short articles can be found at www.ezinearticles.com – you might like to type in “Judy Apps” for a few of mine!

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.

Focusing on the extraordinary

Never underestimate…

bowerbirdHave you come across the bowerbird of Australia? It’s a dull-looking species, fawn-brown in colour. The male bowerbird builds a nest surrounded with a variety of brightly coloured objects he has collected which may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even coins, nails or pieces of glass. But the most remarkable part of the construction is a grand avenue of sticks leading to the nest. The sticks are arranged with precise care so that those closest to the nest are the smallest and those farthest away are the tallest, which gives a false sense of perspective so that when the bowerbird stands at the entrance to his nest he looks enormous and impressive to the female. Researchers have tried interfering to change the order of the stick heights, but when that happens the bowerbird painstakingly over several days restores its original configuration. Does the bird understand perspective?!

Never underestimate nature!

Eileen NearneAnd humans? I read about Eileen Nearne who died at 89 this month. You’d never heard of her? Neither had I.

Eileen Nearne was just an old lady who lived alone in Torquay. The most that neighbours had to say about her was that she used to enjoy talking about her cat.

Yet after her death officials found in her flat an amazing treasure trove of war-time papers and medals, including the MBE and the Croix de Guerre. It turns out that she had an extraordinary history no one knew about.

In 1944, aged 23, as a member of Winston Churchill’s secret Special Operations Executive she was parachuted into occupied France, where she passed on intelligence and arranged arms drops as the only British agent with an operating transmitter in the Paris area. She operated during that crucial period until she was arrested by the Nazis in July 1944. She was tortured, then sent to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp where thousands were executed or died. But she managed to escape and was able with help from a French priest to stay in hiding until rescued by the advancing allies. Her bravery contributed importantly to the war effort. Not ‘just an old lady’ after all!

Never underestimate people!

 Tim Gallwey, often called the ‘father of coaching’ by those in the profession, talks about his profound belief in the inner intelligence and wisdom in each one of us, in human life itself.  He says that a person is much bigger than what you see. As coaches we believe in the existence of potential beyond what presents itself.  We may see withdrawal or the sense of something shut down but we do not believe it. We manage to see through and beyond the acts that people put on either to seem less capable than they are or to make us believe they’re wonderful but which actually cover up their true ‘wonderfulness’. 

I have been surprised more often than I can say by how people can be unexpectedly extraordinary. And it tends to happen when you don’t criticise them internally or consider them small.

 The other side of this is:

Never underestimate yourself!

It is so easy to ignore and deny what is in us. We are capable of being exceptional. The skill lies in discovering how to allow that to happen …

“The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.” says Oprah Winfrey

Curiosity and playful experimentation are effective approaches. Criticism, self-labelling and a rigid outlook block it. The best place to learn is in interacting with people – which is why workshops where you have the freedom to interact, investigate and explore with others are so productive and energising. They are often the place that gives birth to the extraordinary in people.

Sometimes it just takes someone else to see the exceptional in us before we can see it ourselves. They ‘know’ it is there and that becomes our realisation of a truth. As the pianist Claudio Arrau once explained about his performances, “I don’t know what’s going to happen but I know it’s going to be something wonderful.”

So, what are you underestimating about yourself?