Friday, 7 December 2018

We often think we need practical answers when what we really need is to discharge

Today, I just want to share a reflection.

Often, when people reach out to a coach or a therapist, they think what they need is practical techniques to answer questions like these:

"I need to stop over-thinking, but how do I actually do that?"

"How do I stop criticising myself?"

"How do I make myself have more positive thoughts?"

Well, I'm not saying there aren't practical techniques that can be applied, but often, what we really need is not what we think we need and in my experience, practical techniques for things like these are rarely satisfactory. They often just set up more frustration later, when it looks like it didn't work.

"How do I take on my mind and win?"

That's what such questions start to sound like. How can I answer that and know at the same time that we are not really separate from our mind?

What if it's not about taking on your mind and winning anyway? What if the path to a more peaceful life is something more tangential?

Let me share what actually happens in a well facilitated session. I need to speak metaphorically to express this.

It's like we walk into such sessions like a battery charged up with negative energy. We come in wanting to know the secret of taking on our minds and winning. We're ready to apply all our negative energy into that venture.

Frustratingly, the coach or therapist doesn't tell us how to take on our minds and win. Instead, they hold a hypnotic thinking space open. They coach us to express. They gently enquire.

We express. We articulate. We emote. As we unravel our own thinking, the battery discharges. It's like an emotional cleansing. We become more peaceful. We see more clearly. We see something we didn't see before, something enlightening about how to be that we can't really express in words.

I often hear about how people found their coaching sessions draining but something wordless yet magical happened in the feeling of that negative energy draining away. There wasn't an intellectual answer to their questions, only a felt one.

Sometimes, that's what coaching seems like to me: a grounding earth rod to discharge all the negative energy away; to emotionally cleanse and create the space for clarity and insight.

The path is rarely to answer the question raised from the problem frame of mind.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Steve.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Sometimes life is about pushing more, sometimes it's about pushing less

My friend Chris once said life is the yin and the yang. I saw it. A dance between the active and the passive; between being the guide and the guided; between being the mover and the moved.

It seems to me our passage through life is a dance between doing and allowing. Sometimes it's time to do more. You're not going to build that business or write that book from the couch. Sometimes, though, it's time to allow more—to stop pushing against the resistance and allow life to guide you, rather than you guide it.

Peaceful wisdom knows exactly when to do each.

Fragile ego chooses poorly.

As a tip, I can only say this, though I've found it a profound guide in my life:

When we feel spiritual and emotional wellness—smoothness, like we're dancing in time with life, carry on.

When we feel spiritual and emotional illness—resistance, like we're dancing out of time with life, stop and take a moment. It may be a signal that it's time to change between doing more and allowing more.

It can go both ways. If we're being too passive, that feeling can be a call to get more active. If we're being too active, that feeling can be a call to get more passive.

Like I said, peaceful wisdom knows. The ego gets it wrong. If the ego is telling us we need to push more, we probably need to push less. If the ego is telling us we need to push less, we probably need to push more. Stopping and taking a moment is what allows wisdom to speak. It knows.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Steve.

Monday, 26 November 2018

When I share about life, it's not because I'm a guru

When I share about life, it's not because I'm a guru or an expert or in any way superior, because I'm not. I'm just as flawed as anyone. It's just that as someone who coaches, someone who is coached, and someone who reads and listens to the words of the wise, one gets to see everyday things from a different perspective; from a perspective we don't generally get to see for ourselves when we're within our own thinking. I'm no guru, it's just that sometimes what one sees is worth sharing.

Monday, 19 November 2018

We need to cut blame, shame and judgement out of our narratives about success

"Don't blame your lack of success on the world," they said.

They were right, in the sense there's no point blaming the world, other people or the weather for why things aren't working out for us. The problem is, the obvious turnaround is that we should blame ourselves instead, but there's no point doing that either.

Look, if things aren't working out, the only thing we can do more powerful than hope is change what we're doing now. It is down to us.

The thing is, though, there's a truth to success that a lot of old school coaches don't want to admit to: you can do everything right and still fail.

You see, unless we're talking about a simple goal like building a wall, which requires no cooperation from anyone or anything, there's going to be factors outside your control.

Take getting a job.

You can have your goal, you can have a plan, you can write your CV, you can register on the job listing sites and you can religiously apply for every job you find, every day, and present yourself well at every interview.

There are at least three factors in the results you'll get that are just not up to you. The first is what jobs are available. The second is who else you are competing with. The third and most crucial thing that just isn't up to you is the hiring manager's decisions. You can influence them, but you can't make them.

There is a point you have to surrender and let what is out of your hands take you over the line or not.

The smarter you work, the luckier you get.

Yes! But you can't deny there are still factors that are simply not up to you and you can still do everything right and fail.

What's worse, but it's real so get over it, is you can still do everything right and fail, then look over your shoulder and see someone doing everything wrong and succeed. You can persevere dilgently for years and see someone else score first time.

Sometimes the other guy gets the job even though you know you're better.

When that happens, what's the point of blame and shame? Seriously.

If there's a new play in town looking for someone to play the lead part and twenty actors audition, nineteen are not going to get selected no matter how good they are and no matter how perfectly they went about getting the audition.

If ten tins of beans sit proudly on the shop shelf, they're already doing as much as they can to be selected. If only nine people are shopping for beans that day, one tin isn't going to get selected and it means absolutely nothing about how good that tin is or its strategy for getting picked. It might not get picked the next day either and it still means nothing.

In fact, here's one of my rules of life:

You're going to get lots of rejection and it means absolutely nothing about you, your goals or your worth in the world.

The problem with blame and shame is they both lack love. They don't make us more successful, they just make failures more painful and they make us needy and desperate, two states that pretty much always work against us.

In fact, let's also kick out the word 'failure', because we've only truly failed in any venture when we give up or die.

Look, sometimes we screw up and we can see that's why we didn't win that time. Okay, so look at it, learn and do something differently, but don't insist on beating yourself first.

For as long as you're doing the best you know and are willing to keep learning, quit it with the narratives about blame and shame. Stop looking at the next person and comparing. Stop judging yourself.

Walk in peace and compassion.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Steve

Friday, 16 November 2018

Let's stop teaching people they have a static learning style


Learning is about correlating your faculties, not leaning on one.

Has anybody ever told you that you have a visual learning style? Or an auditory one? Or a kinaesthetic one?

We need to stop teaching people they have a static learning style of this type and put the focus back on stretching all our sensory abilities and our ability to correlate them.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for being self aware; of knowing our strengths; and of applying our strengths rather than suffering our weaknesses. I'm also all for being aware of those strengths and weaknesses in the context of teaching. Some people, for instance, are stronger with their visual abilities than their auditory abilities.

However:

A lot of people hear their learning style as a limitation. I want to cry every time I hear someone say they can't learn to do something, "because I'm a visual learner, not an auditory learner." This is one of the ways labels can be traps.

It gets distorted into rules and mantras like, "We have to teach the visual kids visually."

No worthy task is completed inside one representation system.

Learning is not a visual or an auditory or a kinaesthetic task. It is a visual and an auditory and a kinaesthetic task.

Just as heavy lifting is not an arms or a legs or a back task, it is an arms and a legs and a back task.

Indeed, intelligence might be linked to how flexibly we are able to use all our sensory systems together, so rather than teaching people they have a visual learning style, or an auditory one; and that this style dictates how they need to learn everything; how about we put the emphasis back on adaptability and flexibility?

Driving, for example, is about learning to correlate visual and auditory and kinaesthetic information very quickly. The sight-reading musician also has to learn how to correlate visual and auditory and kinaesthetic information simultaneously, just in different ways.

My strategy for learning complex systems starts with a flow diagram. I'll trace the various flows with my finger and my lips and head moving like I'm talking to myself. I am. Every so often I'll stop and gaze into the distance while I visualise a large 3-D moving model and test if that feels right. That's a multi-sensory process.

At this point, I want to invoke Gregory Bateson's Logical Levels of Learning, which tell us what's better than having a single learning strategy for all tasks is to have a variety of learning strategies; and what's even better than that is to have a variety of strategies for learning a variety of learning strategies. Call that meta-learning if you will: learning how to learn.

It's all about variety and flexibility.

Besides, sometime we have to be the flexible ones. Sometimes we have to adapt to the task, because the task cannot adapt to us. Good luck learning to swim with an auditory strategy!

We need to stretch all the faculties. How? Stretch the auditory by teaching music. Stretch the kinaesthetic by teaching dance. Stretch the visual by teaching art. Stretch the internal reasoning by teaching mathematics and logic. And so on.

One of the implications of this is why arts are important. Arts stretch our sensory faculties. Stretching our sensory faculties increases our intelligence.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Steve.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Personality types can be helpful, but they can also be a trap


How labels can become thinking traps

Is personality real? It's a partly philosophical question.

On the one hand, personality cannot be real, because personality is not a thing. You can't put personality into a wheel barrow, as they say. Personality a thought construct. Thought constructs aren't real, they're only a simulation of reality.

That doesn't mean they're necessarily a bad simulation of reality, though. You see, on the other hand, we do each exhibit a psychological make up: a set of predictable, recurring ways that we respond to the world. We know some people enjoy public speaking and some people hate it. Some people are the life and soul of the party and others withdraw. These responses tend to be consistent, not haphazard. It's proven in practice that it can be useful to recognise those patterns and interact with people according to the implications of those patterns.

There's a phrase which encapsulates this:

"A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness."
Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity (1933)

Let's start, then, with that understanding: that "personality" is illusory, yet also to some extent useful. Now I'd like to explore how personality types can both lead us and mislead us.

Representation systems as personality types

A lot of pop-psychology about personality types is a distortion of something that came from the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP brought our attention to how people use their visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (feeling) faculties in their thinking, learning and decision making. We call these faculties the representation systems.

The full list:


  • Visual (V), seeing and imagination
  • Auditory (A), hearing, sounds
  • Kinaesthetic (K), touch, feeling, sensation
  • Olfactory (O), smell
  • Gustatory (G), taste and, some say, gut experience


We also commonly refer to auditory digital (AD), which is a sub-category of auditory for auditory symbols: words, numbers and "self talk" rather than, say, abstract sounds like the sound of the wind or the sound of burning embers.

In my first introduction to NLP, I was told to listen to the words people used and decide which NLP personality type they were. If they used a lot of hearing words like, "That sounds like a good idea," they were auditory. If they used a lot of seeing words like, "That looks like a good idea," they were visual. If they used a lot of feeling words like, "That feels right," they were kinaesthetic.

Then, I was told, if you spoke to so-called visual people with lots of seeing words, you connected, but if you spoke to them with lots of hearing or feeling words, you wouldn't.

That's a over-simplistic reduction. Let's dig deeper.

Good NLP certainly talks about noticing people's use of so-called "see-hear-feel" language. If they see what you're saying, you can see what they're saying back and that tends to strengthen rapport. Listening to "see-hear-feel" language helps us figure out people's thinking processes and streamline our communication with them. If they make sense of a complex diagram by talking themselves through it, that's a clue about how we can best help learn a new complex system.

From this comes the idea of Preferred Representation System (PRS).

It's very unlikely that a person has exercised all their sensory faculties equally. Physically and cognitively, what we stretch most gets stronger and what's stronger gets used more. People may exhibit a preferred representation system.

We shouldn't be surprised if an artistic painter as a particularly strong visual faculty and a strong visual-kinaesthetic pairing, because they get exercised a lot in that activity.

We shouldn't be surprised if a logician has a strong auditory-digital or that a composer has a strong auditory and a strong auditory-kinaesthetic pairing.

That doesn't mean the preferred representation system the only one they can use or relate with. What good NLP teaches is that peoples' use of their V, A, K, O and G resources is dynamic, not static. Everybody uses all their representation systems all the time and it's how each is used that's more interesting than what's preferred.

A car buyer, for example, may first be attracted to shape and colour, but once they're past the attraction threshold, to cross the buying line, it may be the sound and the feeling from driving it they have to like. That tells us how to customise our presentation of a car and how to know when to switch between emphasising the visual and emphasising the auditory/kinaesthetic.

Someone might have a preference for, say, the visual representation system and you could loosely call them, "a visual person", but that's not as interesting as figuring out how they use all the representation systems together.

To take the label too seriously is limiting, as is to infer any rules from it, because...

Labels can be traps

The book Frogs Into Princes (Bandler, Grinder) says, "Labels are traps". Personally, I'd refine that just slightly and say, "they can be". You see, I don't rule out the possibility that there might be good profiling tools. As a coach, I find the Enneagram a good reference guide for choosing useful meditations, inquiries and tasks.

Anyway, here's how labels can be traps:

Deciding someone "is" some personality type is to make a generalisation about them. Generalisations distort our perceptions. They make us see what we expect to see and miss what's really there.

I believe that interpersonal work is at it's best when we're as free from expectation as we can be. That way, we can better notice what's happening. That doesn't mean not having knowledge about the person. It just means opening our perceptions up to see what's actually happening and not just what we expect to happen.

Meta Programs as personality types

The phrase 'Meta Programs' is NLP parlance for the predictable, over-arching patterns in our behaviour. One of the Meta Programs, for example, is called motivation direction. A towards direction means you get motivated when attracted to something you like. An away from direction means you get motivated when repelled by something you don't like.

I've never been a big fan of using Meta Programs as a Myers-Briggs type of personality profile, though I accept it's commonly done and probably works reasonably well much of the time. I guess you could say it's a good heuristic but we can do better than that.

A woman once insisted to me that she was away from. I asked her how she knew. She told me it was because she'd done a questionnaire asking what typically made her change her job and car. She gave answers which divined her as "away from". I asked, "So what would you have been if the question had been, 'What made you open your Christmas presents on Christmas morning?'"

You see, it's not that someone is a towards or away from person. It's that you can track predictable patterns of towards-ness and away-from-ness in their behaviour.

As I like to say, it works better to think about Meta Programs in terms of when rather than what: when people respond towards and when they respond away from.

For these reasons I prefer what a number of leading NLP thinkers are saying today: it's about tracking patterns rather than diagnosing a static personality type. Also, to track what the person actually does rather than how they answer questionnaires. That's because ...

Questionnaires can be unreliable

What people do unconsciously may be different to what they think they do when they answer a questionnaire, even if they think they're answering honestly.

Someone I knew once profiled herself as towards, which she felt was better than away from. Her exact words were, "I'm a towards person, because what motivates me is getting great results, because I don't want to be like the non-achievers in the team". Read that again. She remembered herself as towards in line with her preferred self image, even though her language revealed a more fundamental away from driver.

We tend to innocently, unconsciously re-frame our experiences to match our preferred self image, as had happened here.

There's also the problem of Confirmation Bias, which predicts that we perceive information in a way that confirms of our beliefs. If we have a preferred self image we might remember ourselves in a way that confirms that bias.

The duality of elicitation and installation

This is a side bar, a philosophical question for you to ponder. When you give someone a questionnaire and tell them it makes them, say, a visual, or a towards person, is that a discovery of what's really there? Or is it an implanted suggestion?

How it's possible we could be deluding ourselves when we decide our profile readings are accurate

I once raised these points with someone who really believed not only in Meta Programs based profiling, but on various other profiles, including handwriting profiles and astrological profiles. His objection was, "But every profile got my personality exactly right!"

There's a well known experiment in Psychology by professor Hans Eysenck in which he tested whether astrology provided accurate predictions of personality. He asked a large group of astrology students to take a personality test and see if the results conformed to Astrological types. Remarkably, they did! However, when he repeated the experiment with people who didn't believe they had an astrological type, the results showed no correlation.

Does this mean the astrology students answered the test dishonestly? Does it mean their belief in astrology had actually influenced their personality? It's unclear from what I know of the experiment. Maybe that was determined, maybe it wasn't.

There is also the Pygmalion Effect, which predicts that people tend to achieve the results expected of them. They actually change to match the expectation.

These effects could account for why people tend to perceive their personality profiles as accurate even when they are not; and how personality readings could be actually changing our behaviour rather than just reading it.

Yet another factor is that some personality readings language so vague that they seem to fit anyone. Perhaps the predictions offered by certain profiling tools are not that dissimilar. Anyone who has studied hypnosis and universal pacing statements will recognise it's relatively easy to say something that's actually really vague but seems really specific to the listener.

"You're a kind person at heart even if you don't always show it and you try hard at things you like but you get frustrated with other people sometimes." Did I read your personality correctly?

In a nutshell ...

Don't be fooled into thinking that NLP is about diagnosing people with static personality types. That's an age-old error. Learn to track the dynamics of what people do, not label them with a static type. And I mean what they really do, not what they think they do.

The really short version is this: labels are traps.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Steve.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The pros and cons of being SMART


What are SMART goals? And are they always the right answer?

Everyone's familiar with SMART goal setting, right? Specific, measurable, etc? You should be. In corporate world, it's extremely popular. Some coaches would insist your whole life is supposed to be SMART. And then there are others who think SMART is the work of Satan!

Before I continue, let's recap the acronym:

S for specific.
Be specific about what the desired outcome is. For instance, "I want to be 80 kilos by Christmas" is more specific than "I want to lose weight".

M for measurable.
Agree the measures for how on-track or off-track the goal is.

A for action oriented.
In SMART, if there's no action plan, it's a wish, not a goal.

R for realistic.
Agree realistic targets and time scales, not unrealistic ones.

T for time based.
Agree the time scale and relevant mile stone dates.

(Please note there are variations such as specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time based, however all the variations amount to the same set of ideas.)

Look, there's a lot to be said for SMART when it is used for the right reasons. It's especially useful when your goals are in some way 'contractual' between you and someone else, as corporate goals often are. If my bonus depended on achieving the goals I agree with my manager, would I want them to be specific, measurable, realistic, etc? You bet I would!

When it comes to personal life goals, SMART can still be useful but it can also have downsides.

"You can't have that goal, it's not SMART!"

I once watched someone coach a client till the goal that once made the client's eyes light up had become totally dreary, but SMART. It wasn't a happy sight. The coach thought it was good coaching because he'd made the goal SMART. Personally, I can't call any work of coaching good if it takes a client who was inspired and sends them away uninspired.

One potential problem with SMART is the edict to make your goals 'realistic'. It can be really useful to get someone to be more realistic sometimes, but not always. Sometimes, this condition can demote your goals from what you really want to what you think you can have: from inspirational to "meh".

Besides, realistic according to who?

What would you say to a kid who dreams of being captain of the England football team? "Have you ever considered a career as an insurance clerk, son?"

It's said the measure of your life's goals isn't whether you achieved them but whether they made you come alive: that the real purpose of a goal is to inspire you.

To this end, some coaches promulgate that life's big goals should be uncompromisingly unrealistic as long as they inspire and there's ecology built in at all levels.

The trouble with deadlines

It's often said, "A goal without a deadline is just a dream." Well, I'm not sure when having a dream became such a bad thing.

A deadline often focuses the mind, which is the intended effect. Some writers really come alive when the deadline looms. There's no time for analysis paralysis, you just gotta get copy out.

The thing is, for a deadline to work, there has to be something real about it. Not getting the newspaper to press in time is real. Not being ready for your exams is real. Not reaching your financial goals by July next year is not. I mean, what's really going to happen if you haven't reached your financial goals by July? Nothing!

You could make the deadline more real by telling yourself you'll be worthless if you fail. Y'know, give yourself something painful to move away from. If that brings you joy and gets you achieving your goals, fair play to you, but what if it doesn't? What if it doesn't get you achieving your goals? What if it only leaves you kicking and berating yourself?

That's the trouble with fake deadlines.

Having a deadline has become one of the rules of goal setting and it seems predicated on the (false) notion that everyone needs a deadline to get motivated. Actually, not everyone does. If you really want something, you don't need a deadline to get you off your bottom. Some people are actually turned off by deadlines, not turned on. Some people shrink under them, rather than grow. Some people die off, rather than come alive. I know some people who got active on their goals just because they were following their inspiration.

Perhaps it's not deadlines we need but more inspirational goals.

Some of the greatest goals in history weren't SMART

Was Kennedy's 1961 dream of putting a man on the moon by 1969 realistic? Well, in hindsight, evidently it was, but would you have thought that at the time you were setting the goal?

Was Churchill's goal of defeating Germany in World War II specific, measurable, realistic and time based? It was probably none, but still worth going after.

What would you have said if Martin Luther King had come to you in 1960 for coaching in the goal of a racially integrated America?

Should we turn people away from a lifetime's campaign to cure cancer because curing cancer isn't SMART? A motivated, creative, inspired, compassionate life forged in the reach towards a world without cancer may result not only in great things but also personal fulfilment, even if the end goal is not realistically achievable in one's life time.

When do you use a tool? When it's the one that works!

Lest you think this is an attack on deadlines and the SMART model, it absolutely isn't. Deadlines are one of the motivational tools we have available to us, and it can be a really good one in the right circumstances. SMART is an excellent way to structure goals in certain contexts and i;s an excellent antidote to certain problems.

I'll tell you one context where deadlines are a great idea: when you're so inspired that unless you set yourself a strict stop time, you'll just keep going indefinitely. (That's not using a deadline as a motivational tool so much as a 'stop yourself going on endlessly' tool.)

My objection is SMART and deadlines being framed as always the right tool, especially when it's trivial to demonstrate examples where it is not.

My personal recommendation

SMART is most at home as a model for goals which are in some way contractual between you and another party. It makes sure you're both share the same expectations, ensures the goal is fair and sets up agreed measures to avoid arguments later.

I think SMART can also be good for what you might call 'incremental', step-wise goals within the big dream. It depends on the person and the goal.

SMART is not a good model for the big dream itself; or those inspired life campaigns like ridding the world of hunger or ridding the world of cancer.

SMART is not the same as NLP well-formed outcomes

It surprises me how many people think the S, the M, the A, the R and the T represent the five well-formedness conditions for outcomes in NLP. That's getting things mixed up.

Remember, the classic NLP well-formed outcome is about building desired states and desired patterns of feelings and behaviours, not external goals per se; and the conditions are:

It is stated in the positive.
It's what you do want, not what you don't.

It is initiated and maintained by the individual.
You can own maintaining the desired state.

It is contextualised for ecology
You are clear where and when the new state or behaviour is desired and useful; and where and when it is not.

It preserves the positive by-products on the present state.
So there isn't a part of you that needs to resist and self-sabotage the change.

It is testable (some say 'specified') in sensory experience.
You can build a see-hear-feel map of what the desired state is and check for success against that.

SMART is for representing a goal on paper. It's specified in data: it's digital.

The well-formed outcomes model is to frame and represent a goal such that it can be installed into one's unconscious to "directionalize" the brain. That's why it's specified in sensory experience rather than data. Notice there's no 'deadline' condition for well-formed outcomes, though I find it is often useful to put some sense of time in to the sensory map.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Steve.