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,


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,


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.


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,


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,


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,


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

It’s okay to be okay: the sea change that’s happening in coaching

The shift from achieving in to become happy to achieving because we are happy

When I first trained as a coach, it was in a corporate programme. The emphasis was on goals, action and motivation. The bigger the goal and the action required to achieve it, the better. The goals were mostly material and the process seemed predicated on the idea that however you were, it was't okay. It couldn't be. Not yet. Not until you'd achieved your goal.

Then, of course, you still couldn't be okay, because now you needed an even bigger goal.

It started to look like an endless game of having to get somewhere else other than here and you had to perceive lack in your life to be motivated to play it. The gurus talked about creating massive pain to get you motivated.

Then people started to realise that very paradigm was making people miserable. I chose not to become a coach. Not to do that. There seems to have been a sea change in coaching in recent years, though. It was probably always there, but it's more to the fore these days.

It's not that people don't have goals any more, because they do.

It's not that there is no action or motivation, because there is.

Still want what you want and totally go for it.

Just don't kid yourself you need to feel pain to do it.

Don't kid yourself you need it before you can feel happy or well.

Know that it's okay to be okay right now!

A lot of great coaches are teaching people how to be okay again; how to be happy even though you maybe don't yet have everything you want; how to be happy even if things don't always go great at work; how to really want and go after things, but not feel the pain of neediness while you're still working on it; how to be driven by joy rather than pain; how to get active because you're connected with your essence, not flagellated by deadlines.

This sea change isn't new, of course, it's been developing a while. I just really think it's arrived now. And, personally, I think it's what we really need to flourish.

Wishing you health and happiness,


Monday, 12 November 2018

What if you didn’t need motivational techniques?

What's even better than having a motivational technique is not needing one!

I chatted to a guy once who wanted to create some inspiring workshops. I asked him what his plan was and he said, "First, I'm going to spend two weeks in a retreat re-reading all the books I have about how to build my motivation."

That answer surprised me. He seemed inspired enough and last time I checked, reading books didn't create workshops. It actually sounded like a procrastination strategy: let's keep putting things off in the name of the myth of motivation.

Sound familiar?

The thing about motivation is that motivation is not a thing. We just fall for the illusion that it is, because of the way we speak. It becomes something we can gain, lose, find and, as in this case, something we think we need to stockpile.

It's funny how we fall for the illusions of language.

An inside-out understanding of motivation

How do you build up enough motivation to go and buy a bottle of milk?

If that sounds like a daft question, it's probably because you don't need to go through any kind of motivational ritual to go and get a bottle of milk. The chances are you just go.

The misunderstanding is that demotivated is our default state. It isn't.

Think of it like this. There is you at your true default state. That's a pure you: a you before any thinking comes along to change how you feel. It's you at peace, in flow, unhindered by thinking. That's the you who tends to go get the milk.

In your true default state, you just do what comes up for you to do.

But, we do think. We think about how much we have to do. We think about how much effort things will take. We think about the responsibility, what people might think of us, what will happen if it goes pear shaped and what might happen if we get stuck half way through.

Suddenly we're not at our default state and that's where demotivated feelings come from. Then our thoughts can go on to ways of distracting ourselves from the uncomfortable feeling.

Since thinking is habitual, it's easy to fall for the illusion that this hesitant, uncomfortable feeling and the resulting yen for distraction is our default setting. It's not, but it seems like that.

Enter the motivational technique

The essence of most of the motivational techniques I've seen is to overwhelm the uncomfortable feelings with a huge force of positive feelings: to force your uncomfortable feelings in to submission, or at least drown them out.

It's not that it doesn't work. It's that it's inner civil war. How tiring.

It's also a bit like using chocolate and burgers to medicate low feelings. It works, but only temporarily and only seems necessary because you haven't noticed the low feelings had to be created in the first place.

An alternative approach

Let me re-cap this idea of the default state: the state you're in before you're feelings are skewed by thinking; the state you tend to go and buy a bottle of milk from. It's shown below, with what motivational techniques look like in this context.

Default = Things just flow as they come up

Default + Low thinking = Demotivated

Default + Low thinking + Overwhelming high thinking = Motivated

When you see it this way, the motivational technique becomes what one of my coach Michael Neill calls the "nail varnishing the shit that's covered the diamond" strategy. It's like taking your hand, dipping it in something smelly and thinking the best thing to do is spray scent on it.

It's easier to just let the low thinking pass away, which is what happens when you see how it is just thinking and you resign from fighting it. It's easier, less tiresome and clears the mind rather than double-muddying it.

Let me put it like this. Rather than try to create motivation, let go of the thinking that creates demotivation. Return to the default state and then everything is easier again.

This is why I don't want to teach kids how to use motivational techniques to overwhelm uncomfortable feelings. I'd rather teach them why its not necessary and how to return to their true default state.

A thought experiment

If you tend to "struggle with motivation", instead of going to war with your thinking, just recognize the thinking that you're feeling. See it for what it is: as thinking. See it the same way you'd see a movie if you could see the cameras, microphones and lighting rigs and realize it was something being created rather than something that's real. And, perhaps with the aid of meditative practice, let go; let the thinking move on and return to the default state.

Then you can act from the same place that getting a bottle or milk comes from.

Wishing you health and happiness,


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Life is simpler than we think

Why letting go of resistance is generally better than pushing through it

Life is simpler than we think. We are the ones who make it complicated.

More often than not, when someone tells me how something is hard, what they're really telling me is how they are making it harder than it needs to be. Unintentionally, of course. I don't mean to imply that people deliberately make things hard for themselves. We just fail to see, sometimes, that we're the ones bringing the complexity.

Often, all we need to do is let go rather than push harder against ourselves.

The gazillions of self-help articles in magazines and on-line don't help. I can show you many elaborate and contradictory plans from magazines and blogs for overcoming procrastination. However, I've never seen anything that works better than simply taking the smallest possible step and seeing if the second step follows. It mostly does. It's just that the first step gets thought into something much bigger and harder than it is.

Very often we fight to make ourselves do what we think we should. Only because we don't listen to the simple truth that actually we neither want to, nor do we actually need to.

That's not to say we don't necessarily need a little help to get ourselves to the gym, but changing direction from the path to the sofa to the path to the gym doesn't have to need an intervention of biblical proportions.

See the truth. Seek the simple path.

If it feels like you're having to wage war against the hardness, you're probably going in the wrong direction. And when you realise you are the one putting up both the army for doing something and the army for resisting it, letting go makes even more sense.

I recognise we can't always see what the truth is or what the simple path is and that's why conversation can be powerful.

The truth and simplicity is there to be seen, nevertheless.

Wishing you health and happiness,


The art of resigning your way to peace and productivity

What happens when you stop pushing your way to feeling good and getting things done

No matter how much you learn about how to create more happiness and success in your life, I guarantee you this: you will still have unhappy moments.

I have experienced more peace and well-being in recent years than I have probably since I was a kid. Even so, bad days happen. We all still have our stress triggers.

A few years ago, my answer to a bad feeling would have been to spin my feelings backwards, push pictures around in my head and force my low feelings into submission with huge force of deliberately created positive feelings. Not today, though. It's not that it doesn't work, it's that on some level, it feels at odds with something. Maybe that something is our innate nature.

What I know now runs counter to how I was taught in the you must take control of you brain! paradigm. The best way to return to well-being is to do nothing. Yes, nothing. There is an art to doing nothing, however, because we seem to have this in-built tendency to want to do something, perhaps driven by a thought that we should be doing something.

By the way, don't mistake "doing nothing" with "dwelling on the bad feeling". Dwelling on anything is still doing. Doing nothing really is about doing nothing—nothing to either maintain the old feeling or to try and force a new one.

When you resign from trying to control your experience there's a return to peace that happens all by itself. It's like the process is in-built if you don't get in the way. It's easy and there's no sense of being at odds with anything. It's not a feeling of power or ecstasy. It's a feeling of peace and clarity from which new thinking and new feeling emerges.

I have started days thinking I couldn't face any of the tasks of the day. Days where I couldn't see the truth of the things I teach. When I have such days, if I's mindful enough to resign completely, peace and well-being started to return. I start to see my "problems" anew and I started to feel inspired to do things again.

I know it's not that I won't ever feel low again. It's not that the stress triggers will never fire again. It's just that the return to peace is always available.

Wishing you health and happiness,


Saturday, 10 November 2018

Fear not, your self doubt is every bit as wonderful as your confidence

You can learn to be at peace with doubting yourself

A philosophical question for you: do you think confidence means never asking yourself questions like, "Could I be making a mistake here?", or "Could there be a better way?"

I'm just curious.

When I'm in my zone, I stride very confidently in my work and that influences people. Nevertheless, whilst I stride confidently much of the time, I also have periods of self-doubt.

If that seems like a paradox, it's only because we tend to think of confidence and self-doubt as permanent, fixed personality traits. That's like thinking a person can only be happy all the time or sad all the time, but they cannot be happy some of the time and sad some of the time.

How crazy is that, right?

Confidence and self-doubt are cyclic, like the weather.

I actually think confidence and self-doubt are symbiotic, just like sleep is symbiotic with wakefulness: they're opposites but you need both to function. You can't sleep effectively if you haven't first had effective wakefulness and vice versa.

It's yin and yang, opposites making the whole.

Just as frustration and despondency can simply be one step in the larger cyclical process of getting motivated (think Serena Williams slamming her racquet down on a bad day at the office and screaming at herself, "Fuck it!! Fuck it!! Fuck it!!!"), I think self doubt is just one step in a larger process of performing confidently.

Some of the most confident stage performers also suffer the worst stage fright; and some of the best performers are also some of the worst self critics.

So fear not. Your self doubt is every bit as wonderful as your confidence.

Wishing you health and happiness,


Friday, 9 November 2018

How to leverage the Zeigarnik effect for greater productivity

Today's post is a productivity tip with a thought experiment I hope you will enjoy. It's the morning procrastination buster that shows us how we can work less hours and yet get more done. Wouldn't that be good, eh?

What is the Zeigarnik effect?

Named after Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, who first published the effect in On Finished and Unfinished Tasks (1927), the Zeigarnik effect predicts that people who did not complete a task, perhaps because they were interrupted, have significantly better retention in memory for the details of the task than those who started the same task at the same time but have completed it. The suggestion is our memories 'cache' information related to incomplete tasks and a process of forgetting starts when the task is complete.

The related suggestion is that once a task is started, we are innately drawn to going back and completing it. There is a drive to close our open loops, so to speak.

This reflects something a great coach called Steve Chandler says, which points at how our relationship with motivation is the wrong way around. He says:

"Motivation isn't the requirement for taking actions. It's the result of taking actions."

What's that got to do with productivity?

When you arrive to work on Monday morning, do you get flying straight away or do you have some inertia to overcome first? Do you instantly remember where you were and what you need to do next, or do you have some remembering first?

In my experience, the ones who get flying straight away are the busiest ones, who probably have incomplete tasks on their mind.

A professional writer once told me that he used to be determined to finish his current chapter before stopping each day. This caused him to work much later into the evenings than he wanted to, eroding his relaxation and family time. When he got up the next day it took him an hour or two to get over inertia and get his writing momentum going again.

When this writer learned about Zeigarnik effect, he made it his policy to stop work each day in the middle of a sentence. Not just in the middle of a chapter, or a paragraph, but in the middle of a sentence. It reduced his late working and eliminated the inertia he had in the morning.

He worked less hours and got more done.

Other ways I've seen this applied

I once coached someone who always put his tax return off till the last minute. One June, knowing about the Zeigarnik effect, I asked him to do the smallest and simplest thing possible thing to get the task started. We decided that was simply to log in to the online submission service. Then, while he was there, to just do the next smallest and simplest thing possible, which we decided was to fill in the personal details page. I said to him to just keep doing the next smallest and simplest thing and he could leave the task unfinished any time he wanted to.

Within the next ninety minutes, P60s and various tax information strewn over his office floor, his tax return was done. Twenty minutes later, they were all nicely filed away too. It was the first year his tax return was done in June. Now that happens every year. He's also learned how to streamline the task with better filing.

I do much the same with tasks I would otherwise put off.

Professionally, unless I must finish a piece of work the same day, I do the same thing as the writer. I always leave something unfinished for the next morning.

An invitation to experiment

I would like to invite you, the reader, to experiment with this yourself. Remember, there are two parts to this:

When you think you need motivation, don't wait for it, take action first. It can be small and simple, just start. Then take the second small step; and then the third. See how far you get before motivation to complete the task kicks in.

When you take a break, always leave something mid-sentence, so to speak and see what this does for creating instant momentum on your return.

Wishing you health and happiness,


Thursday, 8 November 2018

I no longer believe in chasing success to become happy, peaceful or worthy

Success isn't the prerequisite of happiness, peace and worthiness, no matter what the 1980s era gurus told you.

The old 1980s-era success gurus used to teach us that we had to chase success to be happy. Some said we should create massive pain in our lives to motivate us towards our big, huge wealth and material, ego-expanding goals. Only then, they told us, could we be happy.

There was just one catch: If you actually achieved your big, huge goal, it clearly wasn't huge enough, so you had to set a bigger goal and mortgage your happiness again.

When do you get happy doing that? Who are you really doing that for?

It's like throwing a stick, chasing the stick and if you find the stick, throwing it again. Chasing sticks can be fun, I get that. That’s why we do it. But let's stop doing it because we think we need to do it become happy.

Stop mortgaging your happiness on possible future success.

Instead of chasing success to become happy, make time for your success projects because you are happy.

For as long as we keep putting happiness, love, wellness, peacefulness, worthiness or whatever it is we value "over there" and putting assault courses, our definitions of success, between us and it, we're telling ourselves we can't be happy, loved, well, worthy now.

The more blessed path is to not make our happiness, wellness or worthiness dependent on a goal. It's to be those things first. It's to be those things now.

It's more joyous to work our success projects from a base of happiness, wellness and worthiness, not as a way of getting to those things.

If you are still chasing success to become happy, well, worthy, peaceful, etc., I invite you to turn it around. Besides, if you think succeeding is what's going to make you happy, Impact Bias predicts you're probably wrong. Impact bias predicts the good feelings we think we'll get from achieving things we want will not be as strong and long-lasting as we think.

Wishing you health and happiness,